Burials on private land would require proper recording

By Cindy Brovsky

Rep. Randy Baumgardner heard the snickers when he introduced a bill concerning burials on private property.

“Some fractions asked if this was about grandma being buried in the back yard — joking stuff,” the Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs said.

But the bill is no laughing matter, he said. Several large construction projects statewide, including new roads and irrigation pipe installation, have been stalled because bodies have been unearthed. State law requires the coroner and law enforcement to be called and each case investigated as a possible homicide, which can add thousands of dollars to a project, Baumgardner said.

“Everything has to stop while officials find out if this was a homicide or some family member who was buried on the property,” he said.

For example, one road project grinded to a halt when six graves were discovered. After investigating, authorities discovered it was a family graveyard.

“If the burials would have been recorded, it would have saved a lot of time and money,” Baumgardner said.

The bill passed the House last week with no opposition.

Currently, Colorado law allows burial on private property but some municipalities and homeowner association regulations have specific restrictions.

Often, the burials on private property are in rural communities, Baumgardner said.

“Last year, a family in Jackson County buried their loved one on their ranch,” he said. “It is very important for some people to stay with their land. This bill still allows those types of burials — it will just need to be recorded.”

The bill requires the owner of the land used for the private burial to record the information within 30 days to the county clerk. They must give the name, date of birth and age of the person buried; the name of the property owner; legal description of the property; the reception number of the death certificate; and the latitude and longitude coordinates of the burial site, which have been verified by a witness.

The Colorado Coroners Association supports the bill. Association secretary Chris Herndon said the issue is especially important because more people are practicing green burials. Interment of the bodies is done in a biodegradable casket, blanket or shroud and no embalming fluid or concrete vaults are used.

She said there also have been cases where bodies have been buried in national forests only to be dug up by predators.

“Then we have a coroner’s office out there trying to figure out who these people are,” Herndon said.

The private burials have happened statewide, she said.

“Every now and then, someone will buy a 100-year-old home and dig up grandma who’s been buried in the back yard,” Herndon said. “Coroners can spend days or months trying to identify the body. If there was documentation, we would avoid that.”