Residents protest crematorium in Warner Robins neighborhood

chwright@macon.comNovember 18, 2013 


Warner Robins residents protest Monday against a crematorium under construction.

AI CARTER — Special to the Telegraph

WARNER ROBINS -- Charley Toole, a Warner Robins resident, is the neighborhood barbecue master. But after a crematorium opens for operation behind his home, he’s not so sure his neighbors will want to try it.

“I live less than 100 feet from the smokestack,” Toole said. “I don’t want the smell of burning bodies to confuse anybody.”

Toole represented more than 175 residents who crowded into City Hall at Monday’s council meeting -- some picketing in front of the building -- to protest a crematorium under construction near the Rose Hill subdivision. Ultimately, city officials said the business owners are not violating any city ordinances.

“We did hear your voice,” said Mayor Chuck Shaheen nearing the end of a 30-minute discussion of the issue during precouncil. “(What) I’m going to have to address is if our employees did something that violated our policies and procedures.”

Stephen and Timothy Burpee, local businessmen, are building Burpee Memorial Chapel, a crematorium and funeral home, just behind Toole’s house off of Russell Parkway. Though residents contend the crematorium poses health risks and unpleasant smells, the Burpees’ attorney, Monica Wilburn, said her research shows it doesn’t.

City Attorney Jim Elliott said he researched city laws and policies and found the Burpees followed the correct procedures. Building plans were submitted and approved, and they received a building permit.

Also, a funeral home falls within the current C-2, commercial, designation. The residents contended a crematorium isn’t allowed in the designation, but Elliott pointed out one has operated in an identical zoning lot since 2000.

Council can’t address emissions concerns, though, Elliott said.

“That’s not within the city’s purview to address,” Elliott said. “That’s vested within the federal and state governments.”

Toole said regulations of crematorium emissions are inadequate, and the study Wilburn pointed to isn’t wholly accurate. She said emissions amount to a sugar cube of mercury after 60,000 bodies are burned. Toole said it was much more, but no one is certain because extensive research hasn’t been done.

“It’s clearly documented,” Toole said of the fact mercury is emitted. “The only thing that’s not documented is how much comes out, nor how much it takes to kill you or to cause autism or any other problem. Now we’re just going to be held hostage in our own homes.”

Kimberlie Carpenter, an anesthesiologist who lives in the Rose Hill subdivision, served as the community’s medical adviser, telling council the regulation of crematoriums does not provide evidence no harm comes from the fumes. In fact, she said, a Georgia city recently refused a building permit in a similar situation, because the city couldn’t promise residents no long-term effects would arise.

“They did it purely because, ‘We don’t have enough information to prove it’s not,’ versus, ‘We have enough information to prove it isn’t dangerous,’ ” Carpenter said. “And there’s still not enough of that information either.”

Rumblings could be heard throughout the conference room as residents disagreed with claims from Shaheen, Elliott and Wilburn. One resident called out, “Where is the city protecting the citizens?”

In response, Councilman Mike Davis said council was reviewing everyone’s rights in the situation, but the funeral home owners have met all city requirements.

“Just because there’s not 150 of them down here representing the funeral home tonight, we are stating their rights,” Davis said.

“One person has just as many rights as the 150 standing here.”

Wilburn ended the discussion by asking the residents to respect her clients’ rights to own businesses and not to picket, as rumors have foretold.

Toole said it’s within their rights to peacefully picket, as long as they follow the city’s policies and procedures to get a permit.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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