Sunday, July 20, 2008

"It's Very Natural, Very Green"

Plans for land: Property owner wants to use 17 acres for nontraditional burials.
By Doug Nurse

Jim Bell of Milton envisions a way to keep his pasture green and enhance city efforts to buy and develop parkland —- only it involves a different approach to dealing with the recently deceased.
Bell wants to use 17 acres of his property as a "green cemetery," and is scheduled to have an informational meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Fire Station 43, 750 Hickory Road. An informational meeting also is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 13000 Deerfield Road.
Mayor Joe Lockwood said he's heard nothing but good things about it from the community.
"I support it," he said. "It's a practical solution to the inevitable. It's very natural, very green and with that use of the property, you have some beautiful land for wildlife, like a park, vs. a traditional cemetery with fences and headstones."

Green burials harken back to the days before embalming. The recently departed are stored in a special refrigerator, then placed in a shroud or a biodegradable coffin within 48 hours of death. After a ceremony, they are lowered into the grave, covered, and then buried with earth. The headstone may be a flat, engraved (or not) fieldstone recorded in the cemetery's GPS.
There's no formaldehyde, no concrete vaults, no caskets of brass or tropical wood, no stone monuments.Driving by the property on Birmingham Road, it would look like a field largely surrounded by a hardwood forest, he said.

"I thought it would be a pretty place for a cemetery," Bell said. "It will look like it does now."
And he will donate a portion of the sale of each burial to a Milton green space fund.He said keeping the site looking natural would be easy. It would simply require having someone with a tractor mow the tract like one would do for a pasture. He said he is working on partnering with a land trust to ensure the property stays natural.

Marty Byars of Byars Funeral Home in Cumming will help Bell operate the cemetery. Byars said green burials are not really much different from burials by orthodox Jews or Muslims, who also avoid embalming and other Western practices. Many funeral homes are used to handling burials according to Middle-Eastern customs.

Burials in America average $7,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. A green burial would cost up to $4,000. Embalming is not required by law except in some circumstances, such as transporting a body by airline, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.And water quality shouldn't be affected because pathogens become inert within a few weeks of death, according to the Green Burial Council.

Traditional burials also consume more resources, said the council Web site. The council estimated that in a year nationwide, mainstream burials require five Olympic swimming pools of formaldehyde, enough metal to build another Golden Gate Bridge, and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York City to Detroit.

Patty Durand, executive director of the Georgia Sierra Club, said she supports the idea, and thinks the public will endorse it as well."I think it's great," she said. "Being green is so mainstream. It's not just granola-eating, sandal-wearing hikers any more. It's everybody. I see green burials becoming popular."

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