New Ipswich Smithville Cemetery still in contention

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 14, 2018 6:7PM

The Cemetery Trustees pressed the Select Board on the future of South Cemetery burials, with the still-unresolved issue of gravesites located on state land limiting the amount of graves still available.

The issue became apparent in 2013, when the state discovered that the town had been selling grave plots in the 0.92 acres of the Smithville Cemetery that abut the adjacent dam. The land is owned by the state, as part of a staging area to park equipment in case the dam needs repairs. There are as many as 80 graves in that area, some of which contain remains and some of which are empty.

To this day, the issue remains unresolved, and the Cemetery Trustee met with the Select Board on Tuesday to discuss what the plan for burials should be moving forward for sale of cemetery plots.

“We’re kind of at a stand-still,” said Cemetery Trustee Michelle Pelletier, in a recording of Tuesday’s meeting. “Our sexton needs to know if he should still be burying people in this area or the annex.”

In April of 2016, the town reached out to the state via letter, asking whether the state would be amenable to a land swap, using a section of the Morrill Annex in Smithville Cemetery where there are currently no filled graves, or the Smithville ball field as a staging area instead.

That letter was never answered, Select Board Chair David Lage told cemetery officials Tuesday. 

“We did not receive a response, but not receiving a response is not granting permission,” said Lage. “We should not be burying anyone in that area.”

But as one of the areas that the town offered the state was in the Morrill Annex, which was originally intended to be an expansion of grave lots, the board also did not want the cemetery trustees to sell plots in that area, should the state ever decide to take them up on that offer of a land swap, leaving few options left in Smithville Cemetery.

“You do see how we’re at a stand-still. What do we do at this point?” asked Pelletier, who also asked what the plan might be if the state would not accept an alternative staging area, and required that the bodies buried in that area be disinterred and moved – both for where they would go and who would pay the cost.

Lage said he would rather not open “a can of worms” by prodding the state for a decision, saying that his biggest fear was that the state would simply demand that the town start moving bodies. But his fellow board members said that the town couldn’t wait for a resolution indefinitely.

“I would like a resolution, honestly,” said Selectman Jay Hopkins. “It’s been a long time. It’s going to be a can of ugly when we open it up, but I think that we have to open that can of ugly.”

“We have our hands tied, and that’s what I don’t like,” said Selectman John Veeser.

“So, talk to them and get it untied. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I’m only one of three,” said Lage.

The board made no official decision on whether or not to reach out to the state to prompt a decision on the issue.

In the meantime, however, the Select Board clarified that there were about 60 open lots available in Center Cemetery, which could be used to transfer already-sold lots in the state’s area, should need be. The Select Board proposed getting started on an engineering plan to clear another portion of Center Cemetery, which would open up potentially hundreds of new plots, and determine what needed to be done to divert water to make that section suitable for burial plots.

Pelletier told the board that the cemetery trustees did have about $17,000 in maintenance funds available, which might cover those engineering costs, but wouldn’t be enough to complete a new section of the cemetery. Likely, she said, there would have to be a request for additional funds during next year’s town meeting.


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.