Town, state to discuss options for cemetery
NEW IPSWICH — The Select Board will meet with state officials in the next few weeks to determine the best solution to avoid moving town graves from a state-owned piece of land.
The graves occupy a space measuring just under an acre next to the dam abutting the Smithville Cemetery. The dam is state-maintained, and the state is required to own a portion of land to use as a staging area to park equipment should the dam need to be repaired. However, at some point in the late 1980s, the town began to sell plots and bury people in the space, and now between 50 and 75 graves occupy the area.
The town and state discovered the issue this past summer when the state was investigating improvements to a baseball field located in an area that includes the cemetery. The field was on town land but in the path of a flowage easement owned by the state, and some field improvements could have caused issues should the state need to flood the area.
The Select Board plans to meet with the state’s Department of Environmental Services dam bureau within the next two weeks to determine a plan to resolve the issue. One option involves swapping the current staging area for another piece of land adjacent to the dam. The town owns several properties that might be suitable, said Select Board Chair George Lawrence in an interview Wednesday. One is adjacent to the lot that the state currently owns, which is an entrance to the low portion of the cemetery.
The other option, said Lawrence, is across the street from the cemetery. The town has not had any discussions with the state about whether these parcels might be sufficient for its needs, said Lawrence. The state has been waiting on an official offer from the town before moving forward with deliberations. That will be one of the questions addressed when the Select Board meets with state DES officials, he said. There is also the possibility that the town will purchase the land from the state, he added.
The town is currently seeking legal counsel on whether or not they will require resident approval through a warrant article vote in March to swap land with the state. A purchase would require a warrant article. There may not be time to meet with state officials and draft an article — if one is indeed needed — before the town’s budget hearing next week, said the Town Administrative Assistant Roberta Fraser, but the board will still have several weeks to put one together before the town’s deliberative session on Feb. 4.
“There are some options,” said Lawrence. “Hopefully, the process will work. We’re just trying to find a viable solution that everyone will be satisfied with. And of course the ones that have to be satisfied first is the state, as it’s their land.”