Hillcrest Cemetery withdrawn as site of crematoria

Tim Dinan says he no longer wants to build a crematorium at Hillcrest Cemetery on Bainbridge Island.

But the owner of the cemetery, along with the Cook Family Funeral Home, said he would still like to build one somewhere on BI in an industrial zone because it’s “a big need for this community. I believe in this,” he said, adding he’s making the change to “get this done sooner rather than later. If we continue down the path we’re going on it’s going to be much later.”

Dinan was facing a lot of opposition from neighbors of the cemetery because it’s in a residential zone. He said “we listened” and want to honor the people they serve who “come first.” He said he hopes the City Council will eventually OK a crematoria in an industrial zone.

He added that they faced a lot of misinformation. He said there is no direct science linking perceived problems with crematoria to health concerns. He said there were similar concerns about embalming years ago. But he has been doing that for years, and he’s 100% “perfectly healthy. It’s fear of the unknown.”

Dinan spoke June 25 during public comments at the City Council meeting. The council was discussing the topic after recently passing a six-month moratorium on crematoria to research facts about them. There is no code on them now, so the Planning Commission will take over, have public hearings, and recommend a law back to the council.

Planning director Patty Charnas said the commission has three options: prohibit crematoriums; allow them in a business-industrial zone with specific standards for air quality; and allow them in commercial zones and with a conditional-use permit in residential zones with 200-foot or more setback.

She said BI already does not allow any dry cleaning business, but that the options are just a starting point—not meant to limit the commission.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said while some level of guidance is helpful she said of the commission that she does not want to “tie their hands.” She said none of the three options is based on science or facts. Hytopoulos said she has been researching scientific journals rather than chatter online.

“The last thing we want to do is pigeon-hole the commission in any way,” Councilmember Ashley Mathews said.

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said the reason for the moratorium was to have time to research the issue. So it makes no sense to limit the commission in its fact-finding mission.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said there has been a lot of misinformation on the topic. “This is not industrial waste,” he said, adding a lot of the language being used has been to incite emotional reaction so it is favored over facts. He said many of the studies detractors are referring to are from decades ago when safeguards were not in place. He said if criticisms of crematoria were true there would be lawsuits all over the place. “Please lower the temperatures and use facts.”

While facts are important, Councilmember Leslie Schneider and Mayor Joe Deets said there is a people element that must be considered.

“It’s not just about cremating bodies,” Schneider said. “It’s about that final goodbye.” She said it’s not just a transactional service of a body in a bag being taken out of state for cremation. She said families go through a lot when someone dies, and it’s even worse when we, “add to that problem and ship the bodies hundreds of miles away.”

Schneider said it’s better for the family for that process to take place locally. She even questioned not having a crematoria in a residential neighborhood. “Do we want to go to an industrial park for something like that?” she asked. She said there likely are other things going on locally that create a bigger impact on the environment. If we’re worried about carbon than transporting a body elsewhere might be worse. “Whatever it is that we are afraid of, I’m advocating for a better process to say goodbye.”

Deets said he was a hospice volunteer for a couple of years, so he also sees the “need for dignity and comfort” when people die. “We need a crematoria.” He said he wonders what the huge worry is about emissions because the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency regulates that. “It’s not transactional. It’s a critical moment” in people’s lives.

Deputy major Jon Quitslund said the discussion has been jumbled with a mixture of emotions and directives. But he had never seen the community tell him what to believe and what to do as much as with this issue. “That’s not how I want to function on the council,” he said. “I can’t understand the intensity absent of a real factual basis for those emotions.” He said state-of-the-art equipment reduces toxic emissions so if there really is a problem, “Why haven’t we seen serious illnesses? The danger is grossly exaggerated.”

Sewage pump out

After a long discussion, the council decided to spend $5,000 out of its contingency fund to provide a free mobile sewage pump-out system in Eagle Harbor for weekends and holidays, a total of 43 days from May to October.

The only objection was because the request came out of the city’s regular budget process. “It’s not an emergency like a road slide,” Moriwaki said.

Hytopoulos agreed and mentioned paying it this year then making it part of the regular budget cycle.

Schneider said they were asking a lot of the public. “It’s too much to expect everyone who has a reasonable request like this to know our budget cycle.”

The request from the Recreational Boating Association of Washington was for three years. The association has a grant for $178,452. It has to pay 25%, or $44,613. The request says it provides a convenient way for boat owners to properly dispose of sewage, with the service coming to the boater rather than the other way around.

The city already provides free stationary pump-out services in Eagle Harbor that bring in roughly 100,000 effluent annually. But that service is crowded during summers. The port and city of Poulsbo contribute $5,000 each, but Kitsap County does not.

Hytopoulos said it is an important service because it encourages people to dispose of sewage the right way. “It’s appropriate for our values.”

Quitslund and Schneider agreed users of the service should pay at least part of the bill, but that is not allowed under the association’s grant.

Deputy mayor

Mathews was elected deputy mayor, replacing Quitslund, whose half-year term expired.

Public comments

Regarding the crematoria moratorium, Lisa Macchio said she was disappointed in the lack of information. She felt the council should not be limiting the Planning Commission so much without facts to back them up. “It should be free to take the work on,” the former Planning Commission member said. She added that she hopes that process will bring out more facts so informed and relevant comments can be made.

Another said he wants facts on setbacks, emissions and similar facilities elsewhere. Another said Hillcrest Cemetery is not the right location because of the narrow road. He called for additional restrictions, adding some don’t want this on BI at all.

Regarding the pumpout, Renee Johnson of Westsound Partners for Ecosystem Recovery said BI supported a pilot project that was successful bridging the gap so waters wouldn’t end up being polluted by illegal dumping of sewage. “It’s the quality of life we value,” she said, adding human waste from boaters is a threat to water quality.

Bob Wise, president of the volunteer recreational boating association, said the mobile pump-out is easy in that people can make appointments online to avoid the long line at the existing free pump-out at Eagle Harbor. He said even though Puget Sound is a no-discharge zone, it can happen, and this service is good for environmental stewardship.

Another commenter pointed out it is still legal to dump sewage straight into the waters in parts of Canada. He also said BI is getting a bargain because Poulsbo pays twice as much for half the boaters.