By Chris Rotolo | firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN – After lying dormant, an application for a proposed crematorium is scheduled to go back before the township planning board in March.
Fair View Cemetery, a 90-acre parcel bordering Route 35 South, Oak Hill Road and the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line railway, initially proposed the construction of a crematorium in April 2017.
A crematorium is a permitted use at Fair View Cemetery, one of the largest nonsectarian cemeteries in the Garden State. Two years ago the application was granted conditional approval by the Middletown Planning Board.
But when the developer, Fair View Cemetery Association, sought a setback variance a few months later, which would have allowed them to build the facility just 50 feet away from the nearby highway, the application was snuffed out with a unanimous vote at the July 24, 2017 zoning board meeting.
A NEW LOCATION
According to the project description delivered to the zoning board in September 2016, the project called for a 1,128-square-foot human crematorium facility with two chambers.
The scope of the project is expected to remain the same when Fair View Cemetery goes back to the planning board March 20. However, the site of the project will be moved.
Rather than a location set behind the cemetery’s mausoleums, which are visible to drivers traveling the state roadway, the developers have eyed a vacant, forested area on the other side of the railroad tracks identified on the municipal tax map as Block 865, Lot 136.
Unlike the original site among the cemetery’s thousands of headstones, which includes vital infrastructure like roadways, parking areas and utilities, this 19.5-acre plot is completely undeveloped and, if approved, would place the crematorium directly across Oak Hill Road from the entrance to the Poricy Park Nature Center and a residential development accessible via Ivy Hill Road. It would also be adjacent to Fairview Fields, a series of soccer fields used by township athletes.
RESIDENTS RALLY IN OPPOSITION
According to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) press officer Lawrence Hajna, Fair View Cemetery applied for an air pollution control pre-construction permit three years before submitting its application to the township in 2017.
The DEP approved that permit June 19, 2014, and the permit is due to expire June 18, 2019, Hajna told The Two River Times.
Though crematoriums are considered low emitters of potentially hazardous materials, a group of township residents are not so sure.
“For me, it’s the environmental impact and it’s the toxins that are most troubling. The smoke stacks are said to be low emitters, but there are still hazardous materials like mercury we need to worry about,” said Andrew Clark during a Feb. 25 interview with The Two River Times.
Clark, who was an active member of the Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE) group, which was instrumental in defeating a $111 million power line proposal by JCP&L, said a new resident opposition group is growing in the township and is collecting data that shows the potential dangers which could arise from the crematorium chambers.
“We have maps and data that support that smoke from this size stack will travel for six miles. If accurate, you’re not talking about a local issue. This covers a large part of northern Monmouth County. You’re talking north to Hazlet and Holmdel; west to Marlboro and south to Red Bank and Little Silver. This is not just a couple of neighborhoods in Middletown that should be worried,” added Clark, who recently launched an online petition denouncing the crematorium. The petition currently has more than 4,000 signatures.
Regina Mackiewicz said she began monitoring the situation in April 2017, and is the founder of the Facebook group Stop Fairview Crematorium, a private group that has nearly 550 members.
Mackiewicz said when the application first came before the planning board, she questioned a developer’s professional about the chamber emissions and was troubled to hear the response.
“They told me the only thing that comes out of the chamber is water vapor. But that’s a vague statement. After questioning them about the vapor, they said it would not be 100 percent clean. They said it’s the same effect as if I was running my own fireplace. But I’m not putting bodies in my fire place. There’s other things in a body we need to worry about,” Mackiewicz told The Two River Times.
Mackiewicz noted that some bodies can contain medical implants, silicone implants and even unaccounted-for pacemakers.
“If pacemakers aren’t removed at the funeral home, who is to say they’ll be removed by the crematorium operators? It could be overlooked, and pacemakers do explode inside crematorium chambers, damaging the chambers and filtration systems, which could lead to bigger problems.”
Clark also noted there is mercury present in some deceased bodies, mostly derived from silver dental fillings, that is most dangerous to pregnant women and small children.
Despite several attempts, Fair View Cemetery superintendent William Rockafellow could not be reached for comment.
Currently there are no regulating measures on the books in Middletown pertaining to crematoriums.
Because the application is open before the planning board, Middletown Township personnel and elected officials declined comment.
According to the New Jersey Cemetery Association there are an estimated 25 operational crematoriums in the state, and around the country they are being viewed as a viable option for cemeteries that are running out of plots.
Crematoriums have been a controversial topic in the area in recent years, including a 2014 case in Oceanport in which elected officials said they would mount a legal defense against Woodbine Cemetery. Though Woodbine proposed a crematorium, it could not obtain an air pollution permit from the DEP.
In 2016, a group of Manalapan residents entered a similar fight against a proposed crematorium at the Old Tennent Cemetery. The planning board ultimately refused to hear the application.
This article was first published in the Feb. 28-March. 6, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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Link to original article: https://tworivertimes.com/crematorium-proposal-returns-to-middletown/