Concerns over Muslim cemetery in Port Penn continue
PORT PENN -- Nearly six months have passed since initial concerns were brought to New Castle County’s attention about a new cemetery and burials near Port Penn. A meeting was held to answer questions from residents, but the concerns were not alleviated.
About 70 people who live near the Muslim Cemetery of Delaware met in the Frightland parking lot Aug. 25 to ask questions to county officials about the approved project at the corner of Pole Bridge and Port Penn roads. The meeting was hosted by state Rep. Kevin Hensley.
The meeting was originally scheduled for March 25 prior to the pandemic.
Residents were mostly worried about the risk of water supply contamination because the burials are done without a coffin or vault. Most of those who live near the cemetery use well water.
Questions arose when A Light of Hope, which operates the cemetery, was issued a cease-and-desist order in February due to traffic safety because people at the cemetery were parking on the road.
The county lifted the order when the issue was addressed, which allowed A Light of Hope to continue burials.
County Executive Matt Meyer said the three aspects of the project the county had jurisdiction, in respect to the project, was zoning, traffic concerns and water flow. As long as those items were up to code, there was no reason to reject the project.
“We in the county understand that there are legitimate concerns about land use, about traffic [and] about water safety,” he said. “We also appreciate there is an issue of religious freedom. We recognize that everybody has the right to celebrate their religion freely.”
Public health officials said they do not believe there is concern for water contamination based on the water flow and history of the land. They said they could not promise that there won’t be, but he said there are no guarantees when it comes to the environment.
Hensley said he understands the need for accountability from the county if it were to occur.
“We will assure all issues get addressed in a timely fashion if anything were to happen as a result,” he said.
The land is authorized for 942 burials and will be approved for a 1,000-square-foot building.
Questions about environmental regulations and how the county would monitor water quality were left unanswered because Hensley said most of those questions were for DNREC. He said officials from DNREC were invited to the meeting, but they did not attend.
Many residents were frustrated with the answers from the county and were angry the project was approved before all concerns with water contamination were addressed.
The crowd was upset that the officials could not promise there would not be water contamination, requesting the county promise to fix any issues that might arise later.
Naveed Baqir, a representative from the Muslim Cemetery of Delaware, spoke to the crowd briefly saying they could have answered many of the residents’ questions if someone would have reached out to them. The microphone was quickly taken away from him when he accused Hensley exhibiting racist behavior for not including them in the conversation.
“I feel like I am crashing the party today because I was not invited. The Muslim community was not invited,” he said. “You are asking the right questions to the wrong people.”
Port Penn residents responded in an uproar, many saying this was not a racial issue, but a concern for their water supply.
Hensley said he did not invite anyone specifically to the meeting. He only posted an event on Facebook. According to a March report from the Delaware News Journal, Hensley planned to invite county and state stakeholders, Gov. John Carney and members from the Muslim Cemetery of Delaware to the March meeting.