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Walpole faces looming cemetery crisis

August 18, 2014

While town officials attempt to sell voters a $21 million Proposition 2.5 tax override to address critical space shortages in many town facilities for the next 50 years, another less-publicized space shortage on town-owned property threatens to become a major crisis within that same span of time.

The town of Walpole is on track to run out of cemetery space by the year 2045 without the acquisition of additional land, according to former town cemetery foreman Larry McDavitt, who retired from his position last month. Even that projection may be too optimistic, because it does not factor in projected increases in death rates in the coming years. The Walpole Council on Aging says the town’s population aged 65 years or older is rapidly increasing, as the so-called “baby boomer” generation enters old age.

Many of the 14,000 or so Walpole residents currently aged 50 years old or younger might have difficulty finding a burial place in Walpole by the time they die.

The town currently owns eight cemeteries, four of which are active, and four of which are historic. Out of a total of 30 acres of cemeteries, 20 acres are currently occupied. The remaining 10 acres are primarily taken up by wetlands. Any intrusions on to wetlands for burial purposes would have to be approved by the town Conservation Commission.

More development in town means reduced available open space, so it is unlikely that the town will find very much more space to acquire within the next 25 years for more cemeteries.

McDavitt said the town’s projections indicate that there is space for about 1,000 more burials in town without going onto wetlands. The town does have some potential area of future expansion at the Plains Cemetery on Kingsbury St. in west Walpole, which could yield about 1,000 additional burial plots, but other cemeteries in town, such as Terrace Hill, on Washington Street, and Rural, on Pemberton Street, are already nearing total capacity with little room for future expansion.

McDavitt said the town currently buries about 50 people per year, about half of which are cremations and do not take up as much space.

The town does have two private cemeteries – the Catholic St. Francis Cemetery on Washington St., maintained by the Blessed Sacrament Church, and the East Walpole Cemetery on Pleasant Street straddling the Norwood town line maintained by the Trustees of Reservations. A Muslim group has also approached the town about developing a private Muslim cemetery on Route 1 near the Foxboro town line.

All town cemeteries are under the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen, who serve as Cemetery Commissioners.

Cemetery shortages have already become an issue in other communities around the state. The Boston Globe reported last fall that municipalities such as Saugus, Billerica, Marblehead and Salem are spending millions of dollars to expand their cemeteries but some residents are putting up resistance. In Saugus, for example, the Cemetery Commission’s efforts to take over a parcel of land for additional burial space is opposed by the School Committee which wants to see that land saved for a school at some point in the future.

As a result of the shortage, some towns have stopped selling burial plots in advance of death dates. Other towns have restricted the ability of non-residents to purchase cemetery plots, or otherwise added additional restrictions to reduce demand.

Walpole cemetery regulations, last updated by Selectmen in 2011, allow burials in town for all Walpole residents and their immediate family members, along with immediate family members of residents buried here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 9, 2017 8:06 PM

    This is a problem, faced by many towns, especially in the north-east. However, lets also take into account the growing rate of cremation, which in New England has among the higher rates in the US. True, some choose to bury cremated remains, but in the coming years it will be safe to say the number of people who opt for cremation will continue to increase, so while new space is needed, that amount for the next 40-odd years could still be an over-estimate.

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