Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Feb. 12, 2001

Private cemetery request going to McLeod board

By Gail Lipe

The private cemetery planned by Ralph Picha has made it past the McLeod Planning Advisory Commission, but not because it was approved.

The commission was concerned about the future requests if Picha's cemetery was approved. McLeod County Commissioner Ray Bayerl motioned to deny the request, but the motion died without a second.

When chairman James Hueser called for another motion, the commission members were silent.

The commission sent the request on to the McLeod County Board of Commissioners without any recommendations.

Picha is trying to establish a private 72-plot family cemetery on his property in Section 4 of Glencoe Township. He said it is to be for direct descendants only.

The commission members addressed three issues regarding the request: whether or not a private cemetery is the best use of the land; the future requests for private cemeteries if Picha's request was approved; and how could maintenance of the cemetery be guaranteed 100 years from now.

Peter Harff, Picha's son-in-law, said the proposed site of the cemetery is situated on the slope of the highest part of the property. The cemetery would protect the slope from erosion and preserve an open area.

He said it was a good use of the land at Picha's expense, not the county's.

Bayerl said it was not an issue of the specific piece of property, but an issue for the whole county.

It is a question of public policy, said Mike Junge, McLeod County attorney.

Junge suggested taking a look at what other counties are doing with the issue of private cemeteries.

Larry Gasow, McLeod County zoning administrator, said he has checked with several counties and it has not been an issue in some time. Approximately 15 years ago a small cemetery was established in Jackson County that was affiliated with a small Catholic clinic.

Harff asked if the commission really believed the county would see a proliferation of private cemetery requests if it approved one private cemetery. He said people use what is available because it is easy.

"How many people would want to go through the process?" he said.

As far as the maintenance of the one-eighth acre cemetery, Picha said he would put $10,000 in a trust fund for that. He said the Bohemia National Cemetery has $40,000 in a trust fund for maintenance of its eight-acre cemetery.

He said the trust fund would go with the property if it was sold, along with a perpetual easement.

There also was discussion about embalming the bodies and burial vaults. Gasow recommended requiring the bodies to be embalmed and that vaults be used in the graves.

Picha said he spoke with a funeral director who buries people in Hutchinson, and there are many people buried there that are not embalmed. He also said there are no state laws requiring vaults.

Gasow said the embalming and vaults would make it less costly and less messy to move the bodies to another cemetery if the need arose in the future.

Junge said that requiring embalming may be an infringement on religious freedoms and told the commission it may not want to require that.

There have not been any private cemeteries established in McLeod County in the last 30 years. Bayerl said a precedent has been set. His motion to deny Picha's request died for lack of a second.

The commission approved passing the request to the board of commissioners without a recommendation with a 3-2 vote, Bayerl and Hueser opposing.

Picha's request will be addressed by the McLeod County Board of Commissioners at its Feb. 20 meeting.

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