Cemetery discussion resurrected

Cemetery concerns could be put to rest with land swap

Posted: Monday, June 13, 2005

Benjamin Franklin said, "Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have." If Franklin were to visit Soldotna today, he would think the town never had any people at all.

Of the 57 graveyards on the Kenai Peninsula, not one is in Soldotna.

This could change if a proposed land swap between the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the city of Soldotna is approved at the July 13 borough assembly meeting. The proposal is for Soldotna to trade its 17-acre Arc Lake section, next to the borough landfill, for a 10-acre borough tract on West Redoubt Avenue.

If passed, the city could make a cemetery and the borough would have an addition to its buffer around the landfill.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey said in a Wednesday council meeting that finding a peaceful place to inter the dead is overdue. Carey appointed a cemetery task force to look into finding a location.

"Older residents in the area have said they want an area that is closer and easily accessible," Carey said. "I still have my mother's ashes at my home because she was very clear that she wanted to be buried in Soldotna. This is her home."

Carey said the task force has been looking for the right place for more than two years while the community has been concerned about the issue for many more. He remains hopeful the idea won't die in borough discussion.

"I hope it's successful this time," he said.

In the budget approved by the city council Wednesday night, there are funds set aside for either the Soldotna Public Works or Parks and Recreation Department to oversee the maintenance while grave digging would be hired out by contract, according to Carey.

Barbara Jewell sits on the cemetery task force appointed by Carey. Jewell, also a member of the Soldotna Historical Society, has been encouraging the city to develop a piece of property for several years with the conviction that a cemetery is important for any community on an a historical level.

"It's a good historical marker ... . It's fascinating to look at the chronological order of a city, and we hope this works," Jewell said.

The society and task force found the West Redoubt parcel to be an ideal place for a cemetery.

"The utilities are there. We feel it's a top-notch spot — a nice peaceful setting," Jewell said.

Anchorage cemetery director Don Warden imparted his expertise to the cemetery task force. As a consultant, Warden said proper soil conditions were critical in finding a location.

"They dug a test grave and the soil looked really good. There's no worry with the water table and there is room enough to grow as time goes on," Warden said. "That's a very nice section of land. I recommend it."

Warden also recommended the city leave 10 percent undeveloped for roads and some for landscaping and that it should be designed with the distant future in mind. He said a well-designed cemetery would need a fence or wall, some sort of columbarium (a tomb for cremated remains) and sections for infants and veterans.

"Like we say in the business, the cemetery is forever," Warden said.

Peninsula Memorial Chapel and Crematory owner and director Tim Wisniewski said Soldotna families burying their loved ones likely would opt to use a Soldotna cemetery.

"A cemetery run professionally that looks nice won't be anything people will even think twice about using," Wisniewski said. "I know Soldotna would do a good job and be committed to keeping it up.

"A cemetery is something the community identifies with, it helps the genealogy because families will bury locally instead of scatter. A cemetery brings a community together. When a community grows, it needs to provide a place for its deceased loved ones," he said.

There will be a public hearing on the issue at the borough planning commission meeting at 7:30 p.m. June 27 at the Borough Building in Soldotna.

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