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Landowners keep cemetery issue in front of board

Again, a delegation of nearly 20 landowners from Blackhoof Township attended the Dec. 12 county board meeting, watching to see what action, if any, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners will take on a proposed “green” cemetery in their neighborhood.

The board had instructed zoning administrator Heather Cunningham to draft a letter of concern on the issue. She presented the proposed letter and it was approved unanimously. The letter is to be sent to the Green Burial Council in California with a copy sent to the Steelmantown Church and Cemetery Company in Crystal, Minnesota, a nonprofit corporation that filed its paperwork Oct. 31 with Matthew Connell as its agent. Connell has been the contact for the planned cemetery in Blackhoof from the beginning.

The letter noted that cemetery owners who are part of the Green Burial Council were not following guidelines included in its website’s “Start Up Tips for Green Burial Cemetery Operators.” The county board asked for the council’s support in negotiating a solution for all affected parties.

The county listed the following disparities from the guidelines in the letter: burial levels, wetland issues, home values, lack of neighborhood support and the discovery of Native American artifacts in the area.

-In a call for a level burial site, the proposed site varies in elevation by 46 feet, which is considered a steep slope at one location on the property, according to the Carlton County zoning ordinance.

-The site should have little or no water, yet the Blackhoof site has a Type 5 open water wetland.

-The green burial publication states the site should not have any deed covenants, but the subdivision adjacent to the cemetery property allows only residential use.

-A cemetery should not be in an area of expensive homes. Yet, the average home in Carlton County is valued at $205,000 and the homes adjacent to this property average $353,271.

-The publication states the goal is “Good neighbors are priceless,” encouraging letters, town meetings, and personal visits to each affected landowner and local civic groups. This has not been done, the letter says. The board’s letter notes that Connell backed out of attending an informational meeting at the township level and one on the county level. That said, the cemetery owners’ attorney has appeared at multiple township meetings.

-A petition signed by 106 Blackhoof Township community citizens was received by the county board, requesting the board place a moratorium on burials.

-The site is located in an area that was once beaches on Glacial Lake Duluth. Native American artifacts have been found in the area and no archaeological survey has been requested and no recorded record has been found.

- An adjoining landowner had offered to buy the parcel at the $80,000 purchase price. Cemetery co-owner Ed Bixby, of New Jersey, countered with a price of $350,000 in written negotiations. A deadline for residents to purchase the property at that price came and went in the fall.

There had been no response to the county’s letter from the cemetery owners, who previously wrote township residents to say: “We did our due diligence and are fully within our rights. We ask only to be left to do our work on our land, quietly and peacefully.”

Prior to the latest development, county and township officials had considered legal challenges futile, given that use of the property as a cemetery fell within existing zoning restrictions.

If nothing inhibits progress, the owners have said burials are expected to begin at the site in 2023.

Sales tax rollout

A required hearing on the start of the half-percent sales tax to pay for the Justice Center construction was held Dec. 12. Following the hearing, the county board unanimously approved moving ahead, instructing the auditor/treasurer to send the necessary paperwork to the state.

“We received no phone calls, or letters or emails, and of course no one has come to the hearing,” said county auditor/treasurer Kevin DeVriendt. “Since I have organized these hearings and public input, this is the least public comment on any particular issue we considered. I suspect the vote of approval in November was at the bottom of this lack of input.”

The local sales tax will be collected starting April 1.

County health plans approved for coming year

The county board unanimously approved the Public Health and Human Services contracts with United Health Care and Medica to provide the insurance coverage for elderly, children and other low-income residents of Carlton County. The state mandates this wide-ranging coverage.

Chair Gary Peterson asked public health director Dave Lee what would happen if the board did not approve the coverage.

“We work with all these clients anyway,” Lee said. “We come out ahead on the revenue side of the picture, and that is without addressing the good it does in our community.”

Watershed plan OK’d

Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District water resources technician Melanie Bomier got approval for a 10-year plan for the St. Louis River Watershed. She noted there is still updated work remaining on the watershed plans for the Nemadji and Kettle rivers and Mississippi River (Tamarack River), and they will be presented for approval later.

Busing plan approved

The contract with the Cromwell-Wright Schools was approved for busing foster care children to school. Funding is based on a 50-50 basis with a cap of $10,000 for Carlton County’s share. Director Lee commented that not all school districts apply for this transportation funding subsidy, and he does not know why they do not participate.

- Mike Abrahamson of Cloquet was appointed to the county’s planning commission to replace his brother Erik.

- Approval was given for the Barnum American Legion post to be reimbursed $300 for Memorial Day observances.

- Cunningham was given approval to proceed with drawing up possible controls as a zoning amendment relating to the creation or expansion of any new or existing captive cervid farms. No timeline was given. Cervid farms are at the center of chronic wasting disease being discovered in deer populations in surrounding counties.

Link to more about the green cemetery issue:


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