Council considers cemetery possibility

New option arises

Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2005

City council members in Soldotna unearthed yet one more possibility in the ongoing search for a final resting place for the city’s dead.

“What about the (Kenai Peninsula) Borough designating the land as the Central Peninsula Cemetery, with the city of Soldotna maintaining it?” asked council member Jim Stogsdill during a special work session on the issue.

After studying a number of possible locations for a municipal cemetery, a city task force settled on a piece of borough-owned land on West Redoubt Avenue.

Initially, the city agreed it would be best to offer the borough a land parcel adjacent to Arc Lake in trade.

That plan ran into a snag when it was learned the Arc Lake land was encumbered with a restriction that it be used for recreational purposes only.

During the special work session last week, council member Lisa Parker suggested the borough lease the Redoubt Avenue land to Soldotna, similarly to the lease arrangement the borough has on the Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey told council members he had met with newly elected borough Mayor John Williams, who “indicated a willingness” to go back to the assembly and look at a direct conveyance of the land to Soldotna.

Borough assembly member Pete Sprague, who was in the audience during the work session, reminded council members that when the assembly last voted on a direct conveyance, the measure failed 3-to-6.

Two of the assembly members who voted against the conveyance, however, were not re-elected this fall, he said.

“Perhaps we could do better with Mayor Williams’ support,” Sprague said.

City Manager Tom Boedeker told council members he would have concerns with a lease arrangement.

“We would have to have all sorts of indemnity clauses on liability,” Boedeker said.

“We wouldn’t even need to have a lease,” said Stogsdill. “Just say we’ll operate it.”

Sprague said if he were to introduce a conveyance ordinance (to the borough assembly), a public hearing would be scheduled for Dec. 6, with a vote coming as early as Jan. 3.

“If we can give a school to Homer for $1... . All we’re asking for is land for all of the central peninsula to use,” Parker said.

Council members also discussed the issue of potential groundwater contamination from a cemetery — a topic that has been brought up at previous city council meetings.

Carey said if the city required coffins to be placed in vaults in the ground, no long-term contamination would occur.

“That should negate any discussion of a biohazard,” Carey said.

Parker said the city clerk had received a response from the Environmental Protection Agency, which stated the EPA did not study the contamination issue, but did provide a study of formaldehyde pollution conducted in Ontario, Canada.

Formaldehyde is commonly used in embalming.

“The Ontario study found no significant source of formaldehyde pollution from a cemetery,” Parker said.

Boedeker said the city would require vaults not so much because of the potential of contamination, but because of high groundwater and because they prevent ground cave-ins common in some grave sites.

During a council meeting following the work session, Stogsdill introduced a motion to have the city administration research three options: a direct conveyance of land from the borough to the city, leasing the land from the borough and an outright purchase of the land by the city for cash.

Administration is to do the research and recommend one of the options to the council for action.

During the work session, one citizen in the audience, Catherine Parker, said, “Let’s do whatever it takes.

“We’ve let a lot of our history slip away,” she said. “This should have been done 50 years ago.”

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