The Diocese of Camden has lost its bid to block the state from using eminent domain to take vacant land at a Camden County cemetery for a major highway project.

Map showing "Direct Connection" project (NJ DOT)

The state Supreme Court announced this week that it won't hear an appeal the diocese filed over New St. Mary's Cemetery in Bellmawr. The cemetery, which the diocese owns with St. Mary's Parish of Gloucester City, has operated for more than 50 years.

The Courier-Post reports that church officials want $19.4 million for the six-acre tract, which contains no graves. But the diocese says its figure includes the cost of relocating some nearby graves, noting the roadwork "might disturb the tranquility of some sights."

But the state Transportation Department values the land at $1.9 million, basing its offer on a March 2007 appraisal. The state moved to condemn the parcel in June 2010, and an appellate court sided with the state last October.

The DOT wants the land for its "Direct Connection" project, which is intended to improve traffic flow in the area where Route 42 and Interstates 76 and 295 come together.

"It would appear that the constitutionally protected safeguards long accorded to property owners have been discarded," diocesan spokesman Peter Feuerherd told the newspaper. "The diocese will continue to do what is necessary to address the impact upon individuals affected by the state's project, and we trust that the state is ready to do the same."