APPLETON — A funerary ash storage vault and scatter garden are viable options for Appleton, an expert told Select Board members during a Pine Grove Cemetery tour Oct. 8.

And there might even be a lot more space than was believed for regular burials at Pine Grove, three board members learned during a special meeting/tour at the historic cemetery on Sennebec Road.

William R. Walsh, of Walsh Engineering Associates out of Westbrook, explains to Appleton Select Board members that there might be a lot more space for regular burials at Pine Grove Cemetery than was believed.

“You have a lot more room than you might think,” said William R. Walsh, of Walsh Engineering Associates out of Westbrook.

Attending the meeting were board chair, Lorie Costigan, vice chair, Peter Beckett and member, Scott Esancy. Town sexton, Bruce Libby also attended.

Walsh made the surprise observation about untapped burial space when brought in to assess matters at the reportedly near-capacity graveyard. In particular, whether the cemetery could accommodate storage for cremated remains and an ash scatter garden.

In effect, Walsh said yes, that it is possible and that his firm has a lot of experience planning and designing doing both at veterans’, towns’, and Roman Catholic cemeteries. And assigning much smaller plots than the town now does to ash burials would create a lot more space for interments, he said.

“Cremations are going up significantly (nationally) and Maine is one of the leaders” along with Minnesota and Washington, Walsh said. “They are all very high in cremations. Even at Catholic cemeteries, that historically have not cremated, the cremation rates are through the roof” and the same is true for veterans’ cemeteries, he said.

With cremation rates so high, the need for installing facilities for funerary ashes is “sort of a foregone conclusion,” Walsh told Select Board members.

The firm could do a complete survey and layout and come back with plan ideas that could form the basis of discussions about how to move forward, Walsh suggested. He mentioned any of three options, or a combination of two or three, that could be considered.

Appleton Select Board members tour Pine Grove Cemetery with William R. Walsh, of Walsh Engineering Associates, out of Westbrook.

They include a columbarium, a wall-like structure with enclosed niches, or “cubbies,” for urns filled with cremation ashes, an ostuary for bones and a landscaped or natural garden where people can scatter the ashes of loved ones.

He said the latter can be a bit “touchy” and a “challenge” for a number of reasons. Discussion ensued about people coming randomly to the cemetery at night to scatter ashes and the unsettling thought of people actually walking on the scattered ashes of loved ones.

Natural settings and landscaped gardens or a mix of the two can be designed, the Select Board members heard.

Columbariums can be pre-made and trucked to the cemetery for installation; they typically require very little maintenance and, in terms of longevity, they are rated “forever,” Walsh added.

Costigan pointed out that the heavily wooded spot at the rear of the cemetery, beyond the rows of headstones, envisioned for the columbarium and scatter garden overlook Appleton Ridge, a “symbol” of the town and a “classic setting” that loved ones would like.

Esancy, who already has a plot at the cemetery, called the possible venue for ashes “a beautiful spot” to be laid to rest.

Walsh also pointed out that decisions should be made with the business end of things in mind, and that marketing methods can help support the overall workings of the cemetery.

For example, he said, if space in an ostuary is purchased, the town could also sell a marker stone to be placed nearby with the deceased’s name and relevant dates.

You can “sell the monumentation,” he said, referring to stones. Such decisions are “a business reality that helps support the cemetery,” Walsh added.

Costigan voiced concerns that there be options to match the ‘range of needs in this community.” She noted residents seeking final resting places might want to have different “price points” available.

Against the backdrop of dwindling space for traditional burials at Pine Grove, the ideas for a columbarium and scatter garden were proposed Sept. 6 by the Appleton American Rescue Plan Act Committee. The five-member group was tasked with recommending how to spend about $144,000 in federal funds. That is  Appleton’s share of billions of dollars in federal funding to states, cities and towns.

The committee also proposed a fireproof storage area for crucial town documents and more dry hydrants for firefighting. The former isn’t up to snuff but is required by law; the latter could lower fire insurance premiums, according to town officials.

Rather than endorsing the committee’s proposals, the Select Board on Sept. 6 opted instead to study the matter more. At the time, Beckett voiced concerns that the ARPA committee did not recommend funding improved internet services for the approximately four dozen Appleton residents still with such inadequate service from a private firm that they have complained to the town.

The town is not in the internet service provider businesses, as Costigan has repeatedly pointed out.  However, it had previously set aside $66,000 to be added to a grant sought by ISP provider Tidewater to help families with their broadband needs. The matter became moot when Tidewater did not get the grant.

Dealing with the reported crisis of dwindling burial plots — for bodies or ashes — at Pine Grove was identified by the committee as the project in line for the bulk of the ARPA money.

Of Appleton’s 11 cemeteries, only Pine Grove still accepts burials. It was thought that space remained for only a few dozen more traditional burials, whether of full remains or ashes.

More recently, Esancy, who with Costigan sat on the ARPA committee, told the Select Board that it appeared more land might be available but the possibility required more investigation.

However, at the start of the cemetery tour, Walsh said that it appeared Appleton was in a lot better shape, space-wise, than other cemeteries he knows.

It was noted by town officials that Pine Grove has seen the burials of 22 bodies and 15 cremated remains in the past seven years, four of the latter in the past year alone. Grave plots measure four-feet by 12-feet. Each is allowed to hold one body and one set of ashes, or two sets of ashes. And Maine does not allow multiple bodies in the same plot.

But Walsh suggested that Appleton could greatly increase the number of spaces available for burials by simply assigning ashes to smaller, 4-foot by 4-foot plots. At the cemetery of the Catholic Diocese of Portland they are already doing just that, he said.

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