College buries body farm location
Neighbors' opposition closes lid on facility in Pear Park
Confronted with questions and concerns from residents, Mesa State College is scrapping its plans to locate human corpses several hundred feet from homes in Pear Park.
Instead, it will accelerate its pursuit of an alternate site to build a forensic anthropology center.
Mesa State President Tim Foster told The Daily Sentinel on Thursday that officials are in the process of taking down the razor-wire fence that would have encircled the scientific research facility on the college Real Estate Foundation’s 154-acre property at 29 Road and Riverside Parkway. The college also mailed a letter to 319 surrounding property owners informing them of its change of heart.
The announcement delighted neighbors who were prepared to mount a legal fight against what they viewed as a potential pestilence that could drag down their property values.
“It’ll be nice not to have to worry about where the flies have been when they land on my hamburger or potato salad at a barbecue,” said Lisa Binse, a neighbor who lives across the street from the site.
“I’m glad that it’s resolved,” she said. “It’s really a shame that there wasn’t better communication established in the very beginning. I think there could have been better planning on how to handle this situation.”
In an interview, Foster said administrators decided this week to abandon the temporary Pear Park site and look for a more remote, permanent location based on feedback from citizens.
“At the end of the day, it wasn’t worth the battle,” he said.
He acknowledged the college erred by not communicating with neighbors ahead of time about their plans for the facility. As a result, he said, people who otherwise would support Mesa State were turning against it.
“It was obvious we were creating a black mark for ourselves over (the) process, which is a stupid reason, particularly when it’s something fixable,” he said.
Neighbors began buzzing last fall when the college quietly put up a 10-foot razor-wire fence shrouded in a black tarp.
John Ray, who lives on 29 Road, said he assumed the fence was a staging area for construction equipment for the 29 Road viaduct project. It wasn’t until January, when the college announced it was pursuing the creation of the fifth body farm in the country but declined to identify the location, that Ray said he put two and two together.
Most neighbors didn’t learn the facility was going in on 29 Road until The Sentinel reported it Feb. 11. Six days later, Foster wrote a letter to residents admitting the college didn’t do a good enough job of communicating with them and invited them to contact the college with any questions or concerns “about our activities in your neighborhood or elsewhere.” The letter didn’t mention the body farm by name.
Ray organized a neighborhood group that grew to nearly 40 members and passed out fliers to 400 residents, encouraging them to tell Foster and local elected officials they opposed the body farm’s location. The group planned to address the Grand Junction City Council on Monday and hold a meeting at the Mesa County Fairgrounds on Thursday.
Ray said the group had contacted a local attorney who was prepared to represent them in court.
Several residents emphasized they weren’t opposed to the facility itself. It was the close proximity to homes that bothered them. More than anything, they said they feared the location would decrease property values and make it difficult for landowners to sell, rent or develop their property.
“All of us really felt they were trying to sneak this by. It was very poor planning on Mesa (State) College’s part, on Tim Foster’s part. We are against the location, not the lab, and we have stressed that several times,” Binse said.
Foster claimed the reason the college didn’t disclose the location was because officials were afraid of vandals or pranksters, not because they were trying to be secretive.
But he said he understood neighbors’ concerns.
“Their points were hard to argue with, one of which was, ‘Would you want to live next to this?’ And I said, ‘No,’ ” Foster said.
Ray Lashley, who lives a half-mile away from the site on C 1/2 Road, had bet Foster a bottle of Irish whiskey that the body farm would be located on 29 Road beyond the two-year period Foster had previously indicated it would be there. It’s a bet Lashley is happy to lose.
“I figure I lost the best money I ever spent,” he said.