Crematorium: Barbecue or Chernobyl?

It remains to be seen if the city will allow a crematorium on Bainbridge Island, but a moratorium on such a facility will be in place for at least six months.

Many public comments at the City Council meeting May 28 were against the idea, but the council is in favor of making a more factual than emotional decision.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said there is too much misinformation on the topic now. “It’s something as benign as a propane barbecue to something just short of Chernobyl. I know it’s somewhere in-between there,” he said, adding the council will need to come up with the facts to base its decision on.

Moriwaki and Mayor Joe Deets agreed that councilmembers knew very little about the issue until a local business expressed interest in building a crematorium. Deets said there will be a learning curve. “Please allow this to happen,” Moriwaki said of the six-month fact-finding mission.

Deets said while they’ve heard a lot from opposition, he’d like to hear from families going through end-of-life experiences who may want such a facility. “We need to realize there is a need for such services.” The mayor shared a historical message made by Chief Seattle. “Ashes of ancestors are sacred and their resting places are hallowed ground.”

Tim Dinan, owner of BI’s Cook Family Funeral and Cremation Service, would like to build the facility. He said there are only three in all of Kitsap County that are often too busy to help, so his business uses two out of the area. He said he recently had to tell a family that its baby who had tragically died was going to have to be taken out of state to be cremated. “These are real people here. They’re grieving families who have lost someone.”

Dinan said those in opposition because of things like pollution and smell are looking at outdated information. “It’s nothing like it was 25 years ago,” he said, adding that the systems are completely controlled by computers to avoid such problems. “Let the people in this community choose what they want.”

His wife, Alison Hahn, went to the extreme saying she’s seen a report that if there was a disaster on BI up to 1,000 people could die. “I hope to never have to see that day,” she said, “but what does the city have planned for its dead?”

Jeff Wallis of the Kitsap County Medical Examiner’s Office said such a service is needed on BI. He said his office has to hold bodies, which it’s not designed to do, because “funeral homes can’t keep up with the workload.” He said too many bodies are being shipped out of state for cremation. People who die on BI are having to be serviced off-island. “It will need to be built eventually” on BI, he said of a crematorium.

Another commenter, who lives near the proposed crematorium site, said the location is not just a residential neighborhood, as many have suggested. Nearby there is a restaurant, school, two auto repair shops and a metal fabrication business. So there already is lots of traffic and pollution.

On the other end of the argument, Ron Peltier said most crematoriums are in industrial areas as there are hazards. He said the city needs to set zoning standards not only for crematoriums but also many other end-of-life options — such a cemeteries, composting, conservation and green burials, etc.

Lisa Macchio talked about an engineer’s report that says that most communities prohibit crematoriums in residential zones because of adverse health impacts. She said because of strong funeral home lobbyists there are few regulations at the state and federal levels, so it’s mostly up to local control, which has many “inconsistencies.”

Michael Bonoff, who has lived in the neighborhood of the proposed site at the cemetery since 1977, said a crematorium is “incompatible with our neighborhood. Its impacts can’t be mitigated.”

Another commenter said a variance change for the public good would be fine, but this has too much risk. He said stories like Hahn’s play to people’s fears, and having the county weigh in is unfair because it wouldn’t allow it in a similar setting. Another commenter was worried about the narrow access road, smell, noise and property values.

In other news

There were 24 submissions from 17 artists for the annual Something New project. The five pieces chosen include: Rise and Fall, at Winslow Way and Town & Country; Absolution, at South Madison Overlook; Anatomy of Autonomy, at City Hall; Isopoda, at Waterfront; and Blue, at Waterfront near Boathouse. “I love them all,” Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said.

Also, the book “A Tale for Time Being” was selected for the city’s third Community Reads program. Out of three choices, almost 50% of the 100 people who voted from April 1-30 chose that one. Participants will read that book between June and November. Events dealing with the program start in July. City manager Blair King said the goal is to have fun, build community, and add to culture and literacy.

Finally, city employees talked about their Wellness Program. Started in 1987 as an effort to cut health care costs, the program has saved city workers $388,000 over the past 10 years. City employees get a 2% reduction in medical premiums if 50% of the workforce participates each year.