Council moves forward with rezoning for crematory

Friday, August 12, 2011
Jimmy Davis

Neighbors of Bills-McGaugh Funeral Home on Tuesday asked Lewisburg Councilmen to deny the mortuary rezoning to a commercial classification in hopes it would prevent the business from conducting cremations at its Yell Road site.

However, councilmen unanimously voted to approve the rezoning on the second of three votes for the proposed ordinance with explanations that preventing the rezoning would not affect the business' ability to offer the new service. Furthermore, councilmen said, state law says crematories are an integral part of funeral home services, so that part of the business can't be denied.

Edmund and Ritta Roberts of 721 Yell Road raised health questions that were addressed after the meeting by Joe Emory of St. Petersburg, Fla., an engineer who works for B&L Cremation Services Inc., the company Bills-McGaugh has turned to for the machinery that industry leaders call a "retort."

Mercury in dental patients' fillings was cited as an environmental hazard when the element is burned.

"There's been a small trace amount in the amalgam of silver fillings," Emory said. "They don't do it anymore. They stopped doing it years ago. The number of people with it is declining very rapidly."

The Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study five years ago, he continued, "and the amount of mercury in emissions (from a crematory) didn't even warrant a classification on funeral homes" as an air contaminant source.

Also after the meeting, Mayor Barbara Woods acknowledged there was a concern about trace amounts of mercury, but indicated her preference for cremation after death when if there was any concern, then her teeth could be extracted before cremation.

Emory had flown to Nashville from Florida to be available at the council meeting, but he wasn't called to the lectern to address the council.

The issue before the council was a land use zoning question, Councilman Robin Minor said. As such, the question of such a health concern was not relevant to the discussion.

Bills-McGaugh is on land that's remained zoned for residential purposes and that classification has been seen as erroneous as a result of an oversight. Planning Commission Chairman Jim Bingham has consistently said the commercial zone was a result of an oversight when the city's zoning map was examined years ago.

Jimmy Davis told the council that studies have shown that by 2020 about half the population of the United States will prefer cremation

Davis just wants to provide a service and said he's given families more plots than he's sold just because he knew it was needed.

"I have no hard feelings," Davis told the Roberts and Ritta Roberts replied, "Neither do we."

Joe Emory

A third and final vote on the rezoning ordinance is anticipated on the second Tuesday in September.