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Search for New Whitefish Cemetery Site Continues
Current location at capacity; private-land options now being explored
Headstones emerge from the blanket of snow covering the ground at the Whitefish Cemetery off U.S. Highway 93. The city is looking to establish a new cemetery because the current site has no more open spaces. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
With the current Whitefish cemetery at capacity, an ad hoc committee has spent the last two years looking for a site to establish a new cemetery but hasn’t been able to find a suitable location.

Now the seven-member committee should have up to another two years to keep searching. The Whitefish City Council was expected to vote Feb. 4 on a resolution to extend the committee for two more years after it expired at the beginning of this year.

The current 7-acre Whitefish cemetery, located on U.S. Highway 93 and Ramsey Avenue near the golf course, was built in 1917 and has no availability. All of the 3,079 lots and 184 crematory sites have been sold and are privately owned, according to a site investigation report from last year.

The city has a waiting list of people who would like to purchase a lot or site if any become available.

“As a result,” the report states, “recent burials of community members have occurred in cemeteries located miles from the Whitefish community.”

After being formed two years ago, the Whitefish ad hoc cemetery committee has met regularly and researched possible options for a new location. City documents show that discussions regarding a new cemetery have occurred intermittently since the 1950s.

“Over the past 60 years, the City has considered options to expand the available lots and property available for the City cemetery, without success,” a recent city report states.

The committee narrowed its search down to two possible city-owned sites, one south of the wastewater treatment plant near the Whitefish River and the second near the Public Works Department shop site at the terminus of West 18th Street. The investigation report indicated that the water table is too high for burial vaults at both locations.

The report also gave a history of the cemetery, dating back to its creation in 1917. The city annexed the cemetery in 1979 and, according to the report, the Whitefish Golf Association today takes care of routine cemetery maintenance such as irrigation and lawn mowing, while the city conducts grave excavation and other operations.

On Jan. 22, the Whitefish City Council held a cemetery site work session to discuss the report’s findings and a possible plan to move forward. The council had requested additional research in several areas, including the possibility of a free-market approach.

City Manager Chuck Stearns said in a memo to council that he and Parks and Recreation Director Karl Cozad looked into whether other cities use free-market models and “could not come up with definitive research.”

“Given our land values and opportunity cost of developing land for other uses, a private entity has not yet stepped forward to develop a cemetery in Whitefish,” Stearns wrote.

“That leaves the choice as city development, waiting to see if private development of a cemetery occurs, or being resigned to having people buried outside Whitefish.”

Stearns also reported that the land at Armory Park was originally purchased in the 1950s with the intention of establishing a new cemetery there. But eventually, “attention turned to developing ball fields on the site.”

“In summary, it appears that the land east of town was originally purchased for a new Cemetery, but the groundwater levels prevented that from occurring,” the city manager wrote.

While a city report for the Feb. 4 meeting stated that some city-owned locations are “worthy of further investigation,” the search is turning to private-land options. At the work session, one private landowner offered his land as a possible site. Gene Lamb indicated he would be willing to talk with the city about selling his property off of Karrow Avenue.

It’s unclear at this point how the city would pay for private land, with a city report noting “the need to find funding sources for the purchase and development of a new cemetery.” Also, a groundwater test would have to be performed on any private site.
On 02-03-13, Red Green commented....
60 YEARS!!??!?!?!?  If someone can’t find suitable property in that amount of time, well….they just aren’t trying or don’t care.  I guess some people still want a burial…as for me, cremation is just fine.  I want my ashes sprinkled into the HVAC system at the halls…
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