Bibb Commission approves new cemetery requirements

hduncan@macon.comNovember 4, 2008 

The Bibb County Commission has approved new cemetery requirements which will have the effect of prohibiting a “green” cemetery in East Bibb as well as making it tough to start any new cemetery in the county.

“This ordinance deals with one of the most important charges of the commissioners: The health, welfare and safety of the people living here,” said Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who instigated the changes.

The ordinance, which doesn’t apply to existing cemeteries, would forbid placing graveyards within 1,000 feet of any known well, aquifer, lake or stream which state environmental regulators determine needs a stream buffer. The entire southern half of the county sits over the huge Floridan Aquifer, and most other land has an underground water source somewhere beneath it.

The ordinance’s setback rules would also basically require any cemetery property to be at least 35 acres, Commissioner Elmo Richardson calculated at the meeting -- but only two acres of in the center could be used for burials.

“We don’t want to make it impossible to have a new cemetery,” said Commissioner Bert Bivins. Other commissioners responded that there might still be some areas where a graveyard could be approved.

Commissioners agreed the new ordinance would shut out a “green” cemetery planned by Summerland Group Inc. for 10 acres on Davis Road near the Twiggs County line. The cemetery was intended to use “natural burial” practices, with the bodies untreated by chemicals and buried in shrouds or biodegradable coffins.

According to the ordinance, bodies must be buried in a “leak-proof casket or vault.”

In addition, the cemetery is within 700 feet of Stone Creek, which would also violate the ordinance.

Elizabeth Collins, who co-owns the Summerland Group, expressed shock when she learned about the new ordinance Tuesday afternoon. “I’m completely floored,” she said. “I had heard not a word about this. I really don’t know where to go from here.”

Collins said it sounds like the ordinance would put an end to the project, which has not yet been approved by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Representatives of residents in the East Bibb and Dry Branch areas expressed satisfaction with the new rules.

“This is a world-class step to success,” said Donnie Bryant, president of the Fall Line Preservation Association. The non-profit group was started because of a series of perceived environmental threats to residents of the East Bibb and Dry Branch area, including the cemetery.

Bryant added, “I think we need to do additional work because this issue needs to become a state matter. Bad water in one part of the state becomes bad water in other parts of the state, especially during a water crisis.”

The ordinance also prohibits disturbing or moving a burial place, and Edwards said he hopes to see the rules refined in future to more clearly regulate the disinterment of burials.

Commissioner Joe Allen speculated that the ordinance might increase the amount county taxpayers have to pay for burying the poor. About 60 people a year are buried by the county in wooden coffins at a cost of about $700 per burial, said Marjorie Almond, director of the Department of Family and Children Services.

“We’re all going to have to pay a price to protect the people,” Allen said. “We just knew we had to do this in a hurry.”

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