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New Ipswich seeks resolution on long-standing cemetery dispute

  • Center Cemetery in New Ipswich is running out of space, with available spaces in South Cemetery curtailed by an ongoing dispute with the state over cemetery land. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, September 05, 2018 4:23PM

As spots are running low in New Ipswich’s South Cemetery, the town’s Cemetery Trustees have asked the town to seek a resolution over disputed land owned by the state.

In 2013, the town and state discovered that a portion of the cemetery that abuts the dam next to South Cemetery, which the town had been selling burial plots on for decades, actually belonged to the state. It was reserved as a staging area for equipment should the dam need to be prepared. The area includes 29 occupied graves on that land, an additional 39 sites which have been sold but are not yet used and another 26 that are available but have not been sold.

In the early part of the year, the town met with the state Attorney General and Department of Environmental Services to discuss solutions that would avoid having to remove already buried bodies from the occupied graves. The town has offered to swap a piece of the Morrill Annex to use as a staging area. The town has attempted to follow up on that meeting through its counsel once since then. But the town hasn’t received any further response from the state on a final resolution to the problem.

“We as a cemetery committee feel we need to know where the state stands on the cemetery,” Cemetery Trustee Eric Krook told the Select Board on Tuesday. “I personally feel we’re being overlooked.”

Krook told the board the matter had been put off too long, and there were residents who needed to know whether they would be allowed to be buried in the plots they purchased, and whether their loved ones would have to be moved.

“I’m talking, an elderly widow who isn’t healthy at all. Her husband’s been buried there 30 years and she wants to be buried next to her husband,” Krook said. “It’s not going away. We need to know sooner rather than later.”

Although Town Administrator Carlotta Pini said the town’s counsel had advised they not “poke the snake” by demanding an answer they may not want to hear, the board agreed there needed to be a resolution to the answer.

“Carlotta, give him a stick,” Selectman John Veeser said, after the board agreed to have the town’s counsel contact the Attorney General’s office to see whether the state would accept the land swap, or whether the town would have to move forward with another solution such as moving graves.

Another issue, the trustees said, is that with the plots limited in the South Cemetery, the town was running out of sellable lots.

Selectman David Lage said the town has been investigating the possibility of expanding the Center Cemetery on Main Street, by cutting a wooded area and adding drainage, which could add up to an additional 300 spots. The Capital Improvement Committee has also looked into a suggestion of purchasing a columbarium, a structure for storing funeral urns, which would take less space than burial plots. Lage said a warrant article could be forthcoming this March for one or both options.

Selectman John Veeser added that if the situation becomes critical, it would be possible to remove access roads in the cemetery in favor of burial plots. That could, without much time or expense, add about 40 plots, he said.

“That’s immediate. That’s an easy way to do it,” he said.