Grave Issues

Neighbors oppose cemetery site

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2007

Now that a Soldotna city cemetery may be coming to their neighborhood, a number of Mooring by the River Subdivision homeowners rose up Wednesday night in protest.

Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner, who resides on Riverwatch Drive, described the neighborhood as being exceptionally noisy with Friday night, Saturday and Sunday football, baseball and soccer games played at nearby schools generating crowd noise and loudspeaker announcements.

"Try talking to a deceased loved one (at the cemetery) when out of the loudspeaker you hear, 'Now starting for the SoHi Stars, number 72 ...'" Turner said.

He also said one of the positive attributes of city-owned property between West Redoubt Avenue and Riverwatch Drive listed by cemetery proponents is the fact that it overlooks the Kenai River, providing a quiet, reflective setting.

During the summer, however, boat motor noise and yelling from excited fishermen makes the neighborhood anything but quiet, he said.

"Ask us who live along this stretch of river (about) loud yelling from excited anglers and how well noise travels across water," he said. "You're going to have a quiet period from about November until June."

Reading excerpts from a Maryland newspaper article and a review of a book on burials in America, Turner also warned of potential environmental health hazards caused by leaking formaldehyde used in embalming and danger from biological agents such as viruses and bacteria released from decomposed bodies.

"Since the Kenai River is down gradient less than 100 yards from the proposed cemetery, formaldehyde could leach into the river," Turner said.

Many of Turner's concerns had been addressed previously by the Soldotna Memorial Park Task Force when other sites were under consideration for a cemetery.

Co-chair Jim Fassler presented the task force's final recommendation to the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, saying the site to which Turner was referring had received 10 number-one priority votes of the task force members.

Another city-owned parcel, east of the Soldotna Municipal Airport, received one number-one vote, and privately owned properties off Knight Drive received none, Fassler said.

Others testifying about the cemetery site included Penny Vadla, who said she would like the task force to look at other areas. She suggested a site along Kalifornsky Beach Road saying it would be "nice" for a cemetery, and it is accessible. The task force had already rejected that property.

Speaking about the West Redoubt site, Vadla said, "You're taking prime land ... we could have a nice place to ski, bike."

She said she also recalled the city once having a plan to build a foot bridge across the Kenai River from the site to the college.

The corner of the site closest to the river has settling ponds for storm water coming off city streets. The ponds are at the bottom of a bluff forming the upper edge of the proposed memorial park land.

Ryan Mills, funeral director from Peninsula Memorial Chapels and member of the task force, said, "A memorial park will add stability to the community and is of value to everyone because there will always be someone they know whether family, friend or community member that will be located there."

With regard to potential environmental hazards from cemeteries, Mills said, "The embalming process itself eliminates bodily fluids, provides a level of sanitation and leaves a body with little or no moisture.

"Studies relating to soil and groundwater quality have been furnished to the city ... and provide results indicating that cemeteries are not a significant contributing source of contamination ...," he said.

In reference to any impacts on the value of land adjacent to cemeteries, Mills said, "Home buyers often favor land that views or is next to a memorial park because of the assurance that there will be no further development and being next to a peaceful, well maintained park that is respected by the community."

He also said approximately 70 percent of the deceased in Alaska are cremated, and approximately 50 percent of people buried on the Kenai Peninsula are not embalmed. Embalming is not required by Alaska law.

"Anticipated burials within one year would be approximately five, but could be up to 10," Mills said.

Two people remonstrating against the West Redoubt site, Jay Rohloff and John Dombovy, suggested the city reconsider building the memorial park on the property near the airport.

Jack Blackwell said if the West Redoubt property is used, he opposes any extension of Riverwatch Drive to provide access, and he would like to have representative property owners involved in a cemetery design process to assure a treed buffer remains between the cemetery and the residential neighborhood.

Barbara Jewell said, "I hope (city council members) respect the work of this task force and accept their recommendation."

Dick Troeger said the council should "give serious thought not to fear tactics about what's in the ground, but that a memorial park is for your loved ones."

In other business, the city council:

* Certified results of the special election naming Peter Micciche to replace Councilwoman Jane Stein, who stepped down. A plaque was presented to Stein for her nearly 10 years as a council member;

* Changed the name of Foothill Avenue and Foothill Street to Foothill Road;

* Revamped the procedure for creating Special Assessment Districts for funding local improvements such as street paving; and

* Approved a three-year contract with police, giving them a 3 percent pay hike this year and 3 1/2 percent increases in the second and third years of the contract.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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