The two cemeteries on Wrangell Island are nearing capacity and the community is looking for solutions.
About a mile down Zimovia Highway, the older of Wrangell’s two cemeteries is nearly full. Graves dating back to the 1800s jut out from the trees on the manicured lawn between Heritage Harbor and City Park.
On paper, there are four spaces for full casket burials at Memorial Cemetery. But borough officials have previously run into problems with apparently vacant plots at the memorial cemetery being taken, as the wooden headstones have decayed over the years.
In the other, newer Wrangell cemetery, about half a mile down the highway, there are only three plots available.
Floor space in both cemeteries is quite tight, so how does the Borough plan to address short-term space issues? To build.
Earlier this month, the Wrangell Assembly agreed to spend $57,739 to purchase and install a new structure to hold the cremated remains and new memorial plaques – called a columbarium. At the start of this month, there were only 17 spaces left in Wrangell’s columbarium alone, and no space for memorial plaques.
The new 10,000-pound structure will be located at Sunset Gardens Cemetery and will feature 100 new cube-shaped slots for cremated remains and 96 new slots for memorial plaques.
Assemblyman Bob Dalrymple has lived in Wrangell for more than a decade and said expansion was a long time coming.
“I think it’s been discussed since I moved to town,” Dalrymple said, “So it’s really good to see a pretty creative solution there, at least to help us through our current crisis. “
This is part of the first phase of a larger cemetery expansion at Wrangell. At its April 12 meeting, the assembly also approved moving forward with the expansion of the Sunset Gardens Cemetery plots for casket burials.
As part of this plan, 10 new burial plots will be added to the southwest corner of the cemetery. And 40 new plots will be added to the current parking lot.
Director of Public Works Tom Wetor told the gathering that this first phase of expansion will help the community navigate it as it considers more complicated options for expanding the cemetery.
“Phase two would involve going back into the woods and would require a lot more permits,” Wetor said, “But we could get another 50 spaces in the woods. That might require probably a little terraced approach to how that would be put in place.
The Wrangell Borough Clerk says that in the past year there have been two or three full casket burials in community cemeteries. Wetor says that in past years there have been as many as 15 full coffin burials in a year.
Wetor says it’s important to keep thinking about the future and to not falter in expanding the cemetery after this first phase of expansion.
“If we’ve had, God forbid, a bad year and a lot of people are dying, we don’t want to be in the same position five or 10 years from now – running out of space,” Wetor told the assembly. . “We have to be foresighted to look at phase two with enough time for the ground and everything to settle in a proper way to be able to put the coffins in the ground.”
As the cemetery expansion is underway and the new columbarium is put in place, Borough Clerk Kim Lane said limiting seating reservations will also be an important part of ensuring the longevity of the burial grounds of Wrangell.
“We’ve seen in the past that someone would book 12 places – I’ve seen someone book 16 places, and they still have several available and they don’t want to give them up,” Lane said, “So I think that if we control how much [spots] we let people book, I think we can handle that better.
At the next borough assembly meeting, scheduled for April 26, Lane said she would bring a resolution to limit the number of possible places that can be reserved in the cemetery expansion or columbarium to two per person. . The assembly will also consider moving cemetery rates and fees out of the local code and into a new municipal rates and fees schedule.
Contact KSTK at [email protected] or (907) 874-2345.