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Carlton County Board advised not to intervene with green cemetery

Blackhoof Township residents continued to voice concerns about Loving Earth Memorial Gardens Tuesday, but the Carlton County Attorney's Office said imposing a moratorium on green cemeteries would open the county up to lawsuits.

Carlton County Transportation Building
The Carlton County Transportation Building . Dylan Sherman / 2022 file / Pine Journal
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CARLTON — While the Carlton County Board of Commissioners heard more comments against a green cemetery in Blackhoof Township during a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11, the county attorney's office advised them that putting a moratorium in place could result in legal action.

Jeffrey Boucher, chief deputy attorney for the county attorney's office, said the type of zoning on the property allows for permitted use of cemeteries.

"We would not advise a moratorium based on the wording of the ordinance, the zoning and permissible uses of this particular site, and based on the potential for litigation," he said.

The board initially heard concerns from residents during a Sept. 26 meeting, where they asked for a moratorium on green cemeteries to halt Loving Earth Memorial Gardens, 3133 Pioneer Road, Barnum, from opening.

Board Chair Gary Peterson said the county needs to protect itself legally and should not open itself up to a lawsuit by putting a moratorium in place on natural cemeteries. Peterson added that not only did the county attorney's office look into the topic, but officials also had a private attorney look into it and they came to the same conclusion.

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Robert Barnes, legal counsel for the owner and cemetery, said the cemetery will follow all laws that are required.

Residents submitted a petition signed by 106 people advocating against the cemetery. They asked the board to stop the cemetery from opening. While the petition has been filed, Barnes said it had no valid legal standing against the cemetery.

"Zoning issues are indeed zoning issues, the Carlton County Zoning Administration has found the cemetery to be a permitted use," he said.

Barnes added the cemetery is currently undergoing a land survey and is not expected to burials in the near future.

"I bring this to you because the cemetery will not be active this week or the next, or the next," he said.

Residents again brought up concerns about animals digging up remains, out-of-state ownership and the wording of the county ordinance. Bruce Soukkala, who organized the petition, wanted the board to help them find a common solution to the problem. Soukkala mentioned at the previous meeting that neighbors had been interested in buying the property from the cemetery.

Seth Nielson, another neighbor, said homeowners in the area will have significant damage to their property values should the cemetery be allowed to open.

"Now is the time to do something," he said.

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Commissioner Mark Thell, whose district encompasses the cemetery, said there were a number of red flags with the state statute allowing the cemetery but eminent domain was the biggest one.

Thell referenced Chapter 306 , which relates to public cemeteries in the state, and specifically subsection 306.05 that states: "When the corporation desires to enlarge its cemetery and cannot agree with the owners of the land desired for the cemetery, the land may be acquired under the power of eminent domain." However, the statute does add that public necessity, propriety and convenience must be established first.

Boucher said he had not seen the specific statute Thell referenced, but the county attorney's office would look into it.

The discussion on the topic came to an abrupt end when one of the residents said they were looking into possible legal action.

Commissioner Marv Bodie said with the threat of a lawsuit, it was time for the board to end discussion and move on to other items in its agenda.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTYCARLTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERSGOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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