Rules proposed for permits to restore cemeteries
SALEM — A proposed rule by the state parks department would give organizations and individuals a way to restore and maintain abandoned historical cemeteries.
The proposal stems from a bill passed by the Oregon Legislature earlier this year and signed by Gov. Kate Brown May 25. The new law requires the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation to establish a permit process to enable restoration and maintenance work at abandoned cemeteries.
"Fewer people are using cemeteries; more people are having cremation," said Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, who sponsored the bill. "We are seeing an increase in abandoned cemeteries. … The question has become how do we maintain these properties that contain our relatives and our history but are increasingly filled with trash, blackberries and graffiti."
The proposed rule requires volunteers and others interested in restoring an abandoned cemetery — defined as one where no one has been buried for the past five years — to apply for a permit. The applicant must provide evidence that the cemetery has no known owner, said Kuri Gill, cemeteries program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.
For instance, the last known owner could be deceased and the title was never passed on, or the property was owned by a business or other entity that no longer exists and did not convey the title.
Applicants would receive or be denied a permit within 30 days of applying.
"There will be an initial full application to document the intent of the group and the evidence that it is abandoned, then a shorter renewal (form) for an organization that wants to continue (their work)," Gill said. Renewals would be required annually.
Abandoned cemeteries have become increasingly commonplace as owners go out of business due to changes in burial practices, Gomberg said. In Lincoln County, where he lives, there are nine abandoned cemeteries, he said.
The new law is designed to help volunteers and organizations to clean up historical properties while providing some guidance and oversight, he said.
Critics assert the permit requirement adds an unnecessary delay and layer of red tape for volunteers who want to spruce up neglected cemeteries.
"We have had people who are looking for permission to do it; they don't feel comfortable doing it (without permission)," Gill said. "Also, if they create a nonprofit, then the formal relationship will allow them a little stronger standing with donors and granting organizations.
"It may add some additional paperwork, but we are attempting to make it as easy and quick as possible. It will also be a great benefit to have contacts for the various cemeteries."