Burial ground cleaning is complicated when the owner can't be reached
Oakland Cemetery could use some work, but getting it into shape is complicated when the owner can't be reached. (WJAR)

“It’s in bad shape, very bad shape,” chairman of the Cranston Historical Cemeteries Commission Gregg Mierka said regarding Oakland Cemetery.

He spoke with NBC10 on Tuesday about the burial grounds bordering Roger Williams Park in Cranston has seemingly become a dumping ground.

“The issue is, it’s not under anyone’s control,” Mierka said.

Not anyone local, anyway.

Mierka’s commission is a group of volunteers who assess the shape of local burial grounds. But they don’t have the means to fully fix the flaws because permission from the owner is required.

“He is in and out of Rhode Island and it’s hard to organize any efforts there,” Mierka said of land owner Russell Dodd.

NBC 10 reaches out to Dodd several times and got no response.

“We’ve tried to contact him, he doesn’t pick up,” Steve Elmasian said Tuesday. “Communication is virtually nill.”

Elmasian is with the men’s club at the nearby Armenian church, a group that’s bypassed any response from the cemetery owner and has come out each spring for the last five years to maintain graves of their ancestors.

“You didn’t know what you were walking into at one time, we’ve pulled about 1200 bags of leaves out of here, we’ve put in over a thousand hours,” Elmasian said.

But trees remain down and trash continues to be tossed on plots. Each season, it catches the attention of more people in the community who want to get rid of it.

“There’s so many things that are overgrowing and it’s just sad to see,” Robert Martorelli said.

Martorelli owns a landscaping company and he saw NBC 10’s story on Monday. He started making plans to bring a crew here on Saturday to help clean up on their own time and with their own equipment.

“Everything we do is provided by the company, we’re just going to do it,” Martorelli said.

So, what about owner permission?

Mierka says Dodd has allowed it in the past, and he doesn’t see why this time would be different.

“He would probably be thankful for that,” Mierka said.

Despite some opposition, there are still plots for sale at Oakland Cemetery. According to state law, a portion of burial plot sales are supposed to go into a fund dedicated to upkeep of the land.

The Rhode Island historical cemetery committee says the owner tells them hasn’t sold any plots in some time.

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