Concerns over crematorium raised at Tonasket City Council

TONASKET – In addition to a long budget discussion at the Tuesday, Nov. 22 Tonasket Council Meeting, community concerns over a proposal to build a crematory highlighted a council session that stretched on for nearly three hours.

Bergh’s Funeral Service has proposed building a crematory adjacent to the Tonasket Cemetery on County Highway 7, north of town on the west side of the Okanogan River. Some area residents had concerns about the proposed crematory’s impact on their neighborhood. Tiffany and Anthony Berry, who said they represented a number of cemetery-area residents, said they were concerned about the potential for sounds, smells, visible flames, ash fall and declining property values in the area.

“There’s about 25 kids living within a mile and a half,” Tiffany Berry said. “I know I really don’t want to have to explain to my kids what it’s there for. I don’t want to be sitting on my porch and look out and see ashes coming out of this monstrosity of a building for eight hours…

“I think this area needs a crematory, just not so close to where people live.”

“I talked to a few people — orchard owners, land owners, business owners in town,” Anthony Berry said. “Everyone I talked to doesn’t want to live where they can smell it, or see it when they drive by.”

Glenn Graves, owner of the Okanogan County Crematory, was in attendance, though he was reticent to speak as “Just about anything I say could come across as being in my own self-interest (as a competitor),” he said.

Graves did answer a number of general questions about crematory operations. He noted that the Okanogan County Crematory itself is 26 miles out of town and has no neighbors within three miles, and legally must be at least 300 feet from the property line.

“There really is no ‘ew’ factor,” thanks to EPA regulations, he said. “The heat is enough to burn off all the carbon, so there wouldn’t be any smoke unless something went wrong.”

He added that placing noise restrictions on the facility “may not be practical.”

Graves invited the council to tour his facility as part of educating itself on how crematories work.

Mayor Patrick Plumb pointed out to Scott Miller of Bergh’s that at this point no one was trying to kill the proposal.

“I’m not looking to smash anyone’s hopes and dreams,” he said. “We’re just entering the conversation here. My mom, for one, wants to sign right up. But we need to listen to the community.”

“I totally understand,” Miller said.

Councilwoman Jill Vugteveen pointed out that part of the process would include working with the various government agencies and entities that oversee such projects so as to prevent the building of something detrimental to the population.

Also needed was further research into what would be the best option for the city in terms of land use for the proposed crematory, whether it be to sell or lease the needed land.

The council agreed to have the planning commission further research the proposal and its associated issues before taking it up again in committee.

In other business, the council approved the extension of the city’s franchise agreement with Charter Cable (allowing access to city infrastructure when needed for cable television installation); authorized the mayor to sign an agreement with the state Department of Ecology pertaining to right-of-way acquisitions needed for the sewer project; approved the city employees’ floating holiday (Friday, Dec. 23); authorized the use of Garland funds for candy cane purchases; introduced an ordinance to annex the Legacy Park property to the city for municipal purposes; approving the Mayor’s authority to sign the environmental class summary for the Whitcomb Avenue pedestrian improvement project, contingent on the city attorney’s review; approved a proclamation honoring the Tonasket FFA national runner-up parliamentary procedure team; extended the city’s agreement with city attorney Michael D. Howe for an additional year; and authorized the Mayor to sign the environmental assessment, request the release of $75,000 in funds and certification of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) forms for the sewer project, pending the city attorney’s approval.

City Clerk Alice Attwood announced as part of the environmental class summary report that the city will receive $308,061 from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board that will go to fund sidewalks and storm drains on Third Street.

In councilmembers’ reports, Councilwoman Selena Hines mentioned that a donation box for veterans at the North Valley Hospital, outside Veterans’ Service Officer Shane Barton’s office, was consistently empty and that it was likely that few people were aware of its existence. Donations are being accepted for nonperishables, such as books, magazines or videos. The council approved her creating a sign to encourage public awareness.

Councilwoman Jean Ramsey acknowledged the work of the North Valley Hospital maintenance crew for its quick response in repairing the sidewalk in front of the nursing home, and of Herb Wandler’s crew for its early installation of Christmas lights on Nov. 19. She also mentioned that the chamber of commerce was attempting to deal with some overstay issues at the RV park that included illegal waste dumping.

Councilman Scott Olson said it was good to see the new fill-in police officer, Audra Fuller, working.

“It’s nice to see her in there giving you guys a break,” he said to Police Chief Robert Burks. “You guys put up with being short a person for a long time. We really appreciate the sacrifice you guys made.”

He also praised the work of Public Works Superintendent Bill Pilkinton’s snowplow crew for its work during recent storms. In a related issue, Olson asked the police force pursue additional ticketing of illegally parked cars, particularly in the winter months, to facilitate plowing efforts. Parking on city streets is illegal between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., although he acknowledged on some streets, such as Tonasket Ave., there may be no other option for some residents.

Councilwoman Julianna Griffin said she was touched by the actions of Gordon Stangland before he recently passed away, when he asked that memorial donations made in his name should go to the City of Tonasket’s Swimming Pool Fund.

The city council’s next meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 13, in the council chambers at city hall located at 209 S. Whitcomb Ave.