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Road going in at Memory Lawn Memorial cemetery

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The owners of Memory Lawn Memorial Cemetery are building a road directly to the north of the cemetery as they proceed with plans to sell some water, while maintaining all water rights. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Owners taking steps to sell some water in future

The group that owns Memory Lawn Memorial Cemetery on East 19th Street is building a road on the property as they anticipate selling water to fund improvements.

Henry Mayhew, the director of the Memory Lawn Memorial Cemetery nonprofit corporation and president of the Memory Lawn Memorial Cemetery Improvement Fund LLC, filed for a permit on Aug. 2 to sell a portion of the water allotment each year, without selling or transferring any of the water rights themselves.

“The cemetery is a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity,” Mayhew said, “and, as such, ALL proceeds from the water goes to the cemetery.”

The owners’ plans for improvements will cost an estimated $200,000 and will occur as money becomes available.

A representative with District II of the New Mexico State Engineer’s Office in Roswell said Friday that no objections had been received to the water permit. The public has a right to file written comments or objections by Nov. 8.

Mayhew and his partners are able to sell water now — up to 38.67 acre-feet, or about 12.6 million gallons, a year of artesian water — while the permit is being processed. That could take until spring 2020, a State Engineer spokeswoman said in August.

If the permit is approved, the arrangement would be in effect until Oct. 31, 2023.

Mayhew said that he and his partners are looking for companies or entities, including oil and gas companies, that might have a need or interest in the water.

In preparation for sales, they are building a $13,000 road on a west portion of the property off Sena Road, directly to the north of the cemetery, that will allow for trucks to pick up water.

At this time, the owners plan to build a water dispensing station once buyers are identified. At some point in the future, they plan to build a hydroponic facility to grow nutritional and culinary herbs, and the road will serve that facility as well. The plan is that profits from that growing operation also would benefit the cemetery.

Mayhew also said that the well pump, which the owners fixed upon receiving the property in March 2018, has been upgraded so that trucks can be filled quickly.

Originally the group had intended to sell bottled water from the property to generate income for the cemetery, but the high sulfate content made that unfeasible, Mayhew has said.

Mayhew and his partners have many plans for the cemetery. They include installation of a new flagpole, surveying the property with a global positioning system to locate all graves, repositioning headstones and footstones to create walkways, pouring concrete pillows for sinking headstones, and using gravel pathways and landscaping to beautify the area. They also want to create onsite maps and an online database to help people locate graves.

The cemetery had been in a court receivership since 2011 when Mayhew, a businessman from the Irvine, California, area, took an interest in the property and put together a proposal to take ownership and control of the property. Mayhew was born in Roswell, had a father who attended New Mexico Military Institute and has family buried at the site. He also was one of the parties to a lawsuit against the former owner alleging that funds meant to be used to maintain the cemetery were misused. The former owner passed away in December 2014.

Since 2018, the investors have spent more than $26,000 of their own money on the project and sold two parcels of the cemetery property to raise money. So far they have repaired the water pump, cleaned up graves, repaired and painted stonework, and created a database of records related to deeds and information on the 2,000 or so people buried there.

The owners also rent office space and pay a part-time staff member. They are searching for a new sexton now, following the resignation of a prior staff member. In the meantime, Mayhew is handling those duties.

“The costs (to make the improvements) are far more than we anticipated,” Mayhew said. “We continue to do our best and are hopeful the revenue we generate from the water sale will speed up the process.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.