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Blackhoof Township residents raise concerns about green cemetery

A total of 106 residents signed a petition against Loving Earth Memorial Gardens, a new green cemetery located in Blackhoof Township.

Carlton County Transportation Building
The Carlton County Transportation Building . Dylan Sherman / 2022 file / Pine Journal
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CARLTON — A neighbor to a new green cemetery in Blackhoof Township shared concerns about the venture with the Carlton County Board of Commissioners on Monday, Sept. 26, and presented the board with a petition signed by 106 people who share his concerns.

Bruce Soukkala listed a number of concerns he and his neighbors have about Loving Earth Memorial Gardens, located at 3133 Pioneer Road in Barnum. The petition was not formally accepted by the board as it was not listed on the agenda, but officials said it will be scheduled for the next meeting.

Soukkala said he is not against green cemeteries, which use burials that do not inhibit decomposition into the ground, but he is opposed to the cemetery's site.

"We are here simply because of the location and lack of oversight," he said. "We as a community request it be put in an appropriate location rather than its current location."

Some of the other concerns Soukkala and fellow neighbors have included a potential decrease to thier property values, the potential environmental impacts of decomposition and the possibility of animals digging up remains.

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Soukkala said he is open to a civil resolution and hopes the board steps in to halt burials on the property.

"We request the county fully investigate legal issues and questions and commitments be completed," he said.

While he did not get a resolution during the meeting, Soukkala said he plans to keep fighting.

Heather Cunningham, zoning and environmental services administrator, said cemeteries are listed as a permitted use in the A-2 zoning district, which is what the property is zoned as.

"So there isn't any requirement for a public hearing or conditional use permit or interim use permit," she said.

Cunningham added that if the county were to amend the ordinance or pass a moratorium it would bring up legal issues.

"We would be taken to court and we would lose," she said. "As far as the county goes, there isn't a process through my office that this could be settled."

The new cemetery is owned by Matt Connell, who was not present for the meeting, but submitted a letter to the board that was read aloud during the meeting by a friend.

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In his letter, Connell stated that barring a tragedy, such as a sudden death, there will likely not be any burials on the property for a "long time, possibly years."

Connell said the property will remain a public and natural space filled with flowers and berries and will not have headstones.

He added the water table is safe. Hundreds of feet of sand followed by 30 feet of clay on the property are virtually impenetrable by any decaying organic material, he wrote.

Despite the concerns from residents, Connell said that local property values will not be negatively affected as it will not be a conventional cemetery but a public natural green space.

Finally, Connell stated in his letter that he will adhere to all state and local laws regarding cemetery operation and maintenance.

No action was taken by the board during the meeting as commissioners listened to those who spoke.

Commissioner Mark Thell said the board would take the issue under consideration and will have county staff look into it before the next meeting on Oct. 11.

"At this point we are open to avenues, but our hands legally are tied by state law," he said.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTYCARLTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERSGOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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