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Turtles halt cemetery construction

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 27, 2010 10:36 AM

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The building of a new cemetery off Stetson Shrine Lane in Norwell is still on hold due to the presence of the Eastern Box Turtle, an endangered species with habitats in the area, causing concern about the increasing lack of cemetery space in Norwell.

About a half mile from the North River, Stetson Shrine Lane was land initially given to the Norwell Recreation Department, said Gertrude Daneau, the chairman of the Cemetery Committee. It was traded with the Cemetery Committee after the initial property for the cemetery was found with too high of a water table.

Yet after a town meeting to switch the properties, turtles were discovered around the area, inhibiting the development of the land for a cemetery.

“We have the money to develop it, we're all set. We've been set for more than a year to develop that property, but the turtles are holding us up,” Daneau said. “How much longer it's going to be? We don't know.”

Currently, the town has about 35 cemetery lots available for immediate use, and another 20 additional lots available for cremation burials. Because of the low numbers, Norwell residents are unable to buy lots ahead of time.

“Up until three months ago, we would sell any residents of the town lots ahead of time, but now we can't do that. We have a lot of people calling, but what do we tell them? If I had filled all the requests we'd received, we wouldn't have much left. Then if someone died, what would we do? They wouldn't be able to be buried in Norwell,” she said.

If Norwell runs out of cemetery plots, residents would have to go to private cemeteries in nearby towns for burial, places that charge double than what the town charges, Daneau said.

“It is a fairly immediate problem,” said the chair of the Norwell Board of Selectmen, Richard Merritt.

“We still do have some space on our cemetery on Washington Street, we have enough to accommodate burials for a few more years, but we don't have space to sell people who want to plan further ahead,” he said.

This can be problematic, Marrit said, as only residents of the town can purchase cemetery plots in Norwell, a problem for older residents who move out of their homes in their later years.

Switching sites isn't really an option, Merritt said, as you need a lot of space, road access, and a suitable water table, a difficult find in Norwell.

However, to smooth the process, Norwell has dedicated a parcel of the land in the area for conservation, and is even willing to make the cemetery grounds smaller to make room for the turtles.

“I think it will be approved under some circumstances, it may get smaller than it is, but best case scenario, we go forward with our plans,” he said. “I think it will be resolved before next summer, well within a year's time.”

Marion Larsen, an Information and Educational Biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, couldn't comment on the status of the proposal but noted that it is rare for cases like this to be denied.

"In many cases, there is no requirement for the project to change, sometimes modifications can be made, and very few are not allowed to go through at all," she said.

Yet using the land is still a long ways away, as the town still needs to appropriate the funds for building at a town meeting in May.

Daneau doesn't see anything happening with it anytime soon.

“It's going to be at least a year, and that's being optimistic,” she said.

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