Part of the current Ross Cemetery has quietly slipped out of Westland District Council ownership.
Ross residents working on a goldmining Chinese heritage project were clearing gorse on the edge of the cemetery three weeks ago when they heard that someone claiming to be the landowner was "upset" scrub was being cleared without authority.
Biddy Manera, who has been leading the project, said she alerted the council straight away after checking public records and finding part of the graveyard indeed appeared to be on a private title.
She had previously sought council permission to search that part of the cemetery as it was thought to contain the remains of a Chinese burial. The area was clearly part of the cemetery with old gravestones smothered by scrub.
Ms Manera said the private title also took in lawn currently mowed by the council contractor, and she believed it contained unmarked graves.
The council had assured her it would fully investigate the anomaly.
A search of public records revealed the land in question was owned by Mary-Anne Potae, of Whataroa. She could not be reached for comment yesterday. The land title also names Allen John Bates as a previous owner.
The cemetery itself is divided across four titles, with the main part of the cemetery and access from State highway 6 under council ownership on two titles.
Title of the western fringe is listed under a Queenstown address.
Council chief executive Tanya Winter said her staff were fully aware of the situation at Ross Cemetery.
"At this stage, we cannot confirm how a section of the cemetery ended up being in private ownership. This is being currently investigated," Ms Winter said.
The initial investigation revealed that "it appears likely" the part now privately owned could be the result of "a survey error".
Ms Winter said council staff said been in touch with the adjacent landowners to discuss options to sort the boundaries.
"This matter is being treated as a high priority."
- The Hokitika Guardian