A Green Burial Forest is good for our community.
It is good for people as they take their final journey on, and into, our Earth.
And it is good for our environment.
It seems that the controversy about having a Green Burial Forest in Brooks Township has to do with the fear of something new and not understood. That it may have negative impacts: either with neighbors’ privacy, contamination of water tables, or added Township costs and responsibilities.
So it’s understandable that Brooks Township created a new Cemetery Ban Ordinance to eliminate the possibility that they would have to tackle something that they don’t understand. Township folks are just you and me – residents with families and jobs. But they also have to make decisions that affect whole communities. That is a huge responsibility.
But the information that has come out of a civil action suit has clearly dispelled those stated concerns. The complaint was submitted to Brooks Township by the Institute for Justice on behalf of local Forest property owners who petitioned to create a Green Burial Conservation Forest.
Brooks Township will not be responsible for the property should the owners fail their responsibility, as it will be a natural Forest in perpetuity under the contract with a Michigan conservancy organization. The conservancy organization will be responsible for its upkeep after the property owners are no longer here or alive - and its upkeep will be as a natural Forest, forever. No headstones falling into disrepair or bodies heaving out of the ground like an abandoned conventional cemetery.
Water tables will not be impacted according to the assessments already completed by DHD#10. Any wells in the area are not close enough to the Forest per regulations. There is more water impact from roads, parking lots, industry, and unsustainably managed farm runoff than could be from this intact Forest. Trees, soil and microbes in the Earth are the best nature created water purifiers we have.
Michigan law already states that a person does not need to be embalmed, and stipulates conditions such as certain diseases or length of time before burial where embalming must take place. Interment in the Green Burial Forest will still require the oversight of a funeral director, and these laws will still need to be followed. So it is not an “anything goes” situation that would jeopardize the health or safety of the community.
Concerns by neighbors are real, because they are their concerns. But a Green Burial Forest will be a place of quiet respect and peace. There is more concern over what neighbors can do, even legally, on their own private property than what a Green Burial Forest would do. Loud parties, noisy target practice, ATV tracks, or even illegal activities - things of that nature will not be an issue. The Green Burial Forest will be an open book as to its activities - which are peaceful burials and nature walks.
I feel for Brooks Township officials in their role. Someone will always be unhappy with whatever decisions they make on any issue. However as they asked for specific assessments, documents and legal contracts from the property owners, and as that couple complied with each step, the Township created and passed the complete Cemetery Ban Ordinance with no fore warning to them.
It is unclear if there was a call for public input by the Township regarding the specific request for a Green Burial Forest. Two residents expressed their concerns in township meeting notes of June 2023, and those concerns have shown to be unfounded. It is unfortunate that was the public input the Township responded to, and passed the Ordinance at that same meeting.
This Green Burial Forest would actually be beneficial to the Township and area businesses. Our local economy relies heavily on the natural beauty of Newaygo County and the tourism it generates. Thousands of people visit every year because of the many tracts of publicly protected lands, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and waterways, thousands of acres of County, State, and Federal Forest land for camping, hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. Hundreds of people move here because of the environment - I and most of my neighbors did just that!
People not just from our local area have expressed the intention of being interred in a Green Burial Forest such as the one in Brooks Township would be. People from Grand Rapids, Muskegon, even across the State will come here with their families for a Green Forest Burial. They will work with our local funeral directors. They will eat in our restaurants, stay in our lodging accommodations, and shop in our stores. These people will come back frequently to visit the place of their loved ones’ finally rest. They may even come back to enjoy the beauty and recreational opportunities of our beautiful Newaygo County. Some may even move here.
It is unfortunate that the only recourse the property owners felt they had since the Cemetery Ban Ordinance was adopted so suddenly by Brooks Township was the one offered to them by the Institute of Justice. It makes this issue and the relationships involved contentious instead of being the positive and collaborative process that it could and should be.
And still can be.
What stands out from the fully vetted complaint submitted by the Institute of Justice is that this intended Green Burial Forest is about positive outcomes for everyone. That the fears and concerns of the Township and two residents are dispelled by the facts presented.
There are people now within their final years or even months of life who cannot wait for a long legal battle to take place. They do not want their lives to end in a cemetery that requires vaults, caskets, or liners; and where they contribute to the need for mowers, lawn fertilizers and pesticides for the upkeep of their burial ground. Their honorable wish is to be buried in the way that nearly the whole of humanity’s history has been, without monuments or mausoleums, and as many Holy books say: “Dust to Dust”. Their wish is to have their final repose “decompose” in a way that gives back to the Earth, back to a Forest.
Repealing the Cemetery Ban Ordinance to allow for a Green Burial Forest is a positive thing that Brooks Township can do. It is positive not just for the Forest property owners, but also for our local communities, the economy, and for people facing their end of life. It also promotes a positive image of Brooks Township as a forward moving civic organization to allow this “newer” oldest and fast-growing way of interment to come within their jurisdiction - the first Green Burial Conservation Forest in the State.
If Brooks Township Trustees heard from their community members who believe that a Green Burial Conservation Forest is a desired and positive service for our area, perhaps then we can all come together for fruitful dialogue and understanding. That we can work together to repeal the Cemetery Ban Ordinance and prevent a lengthy, costly (for Brooks Township taxpayers) and unnecessary legal battle. That it will be accomplished with respect for all involved. And that this beautiful, diverse and lush Forest will be placed in perpetuity as the intended vision of the property owners - and as the final Sacred resting place of family, friends and neighbors.
Newaygo County Resident
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