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Can a cemetery be started or extended in a flood zone? If there is a already exsiting cemetery (started a overa100yearsago) can that cemetery purchase more land to extent that cemetery if the land has been declared a flood zone?

Hi Helen,

Land use permissions are always governed by the land use planners in an area. If you'd asked "should" a cemetery be started or extended in a flood zone, my answer - predicated on the science-based rules in the UK regarding the proper citing of cemeteries relative to groundwater - would be "no". But "could" is a different question.

Land use planners aren't always very good when it comes to thinking about cemeteries and where to allow them to either be created or expand, as images like those at this link can attest:

If you'll notice, most of the pictures are of metal caskets or concrete vaults; currently  metal caskets - often sealed, with airspace (creating buoyancy)inside - are buried in concrete vaults, also with airspace. These can float to the surface over time in saturated soils. (It's less likely that biodegradable coffins will have that issue but the science isn't done yet, so it's just reasonable speculation based on when things are likely to float up from underground and when they don't)  

Burying these items in cemeteries that are either below seasonal water tables or in flood-prone areas is probably not a good idea, but our laws aren't always effective against bad ideas, and it usually takes a lot of bad consequences before laws get enacted to stop them.

In the UK (much ahead of Americans in this area), a cemetery can't expand nor be started without an environmental statement and a hydrogeological assessment about the site's suitability; cemeteries need to be sited like landfills and unless the soil conditions are ideal, a lot of preliminary - and expensive - site-engineering is usually required.

And while cemetery owners may think that if they get permission it's ok, they'd do well to remember that future consequences of cemetery activity can travel with a cemetery for a long time, so it might be ok this year to start a cemetery somewhere but in 50 years it might not be, and if the cemetery has disasters or issues in the meantime, the owner isn't necessarily insulated just because it was ok'd to start up in the past.  Nuclear waste or onsite chemical storage are cases in point --- when the stuff was originally stored, it was legal. Down the road when it was found to be a bad idea (or the containers rusted through) it was illegal, and the companies who did the storage/dumping either had to pay fines and clean up or went bankrupt.

So, I'm not sure of the motivation behind your question but in my opinion, starting or expanding a cemetery in a flood plain is:

1) not a good idea
2) not a good business decision
3) not a good land-use policy practice

and if I were buying a plot I certainly wouldn't want to buy one in that sort of a cemetery.

Hope that helped!



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Cynthia Beal


Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.


Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Cemetery Association of Oregon. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and over a decade of running the Natural Burial Company, founded in 2004. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions, and I own two historic cemeteries the feature natural burial, based in Oregon.

ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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