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Illinois hunting and fishing

Future uncertain for Springdale Cemetery Savanna

January 18, 2012 at 07:29 AM

Peoria Journal-Star

PEORIA — Opinions among Springdale Cemetery Authority members are mixed on the future of a protected area of prairie grass one month ahead of a crucial vote on its fate.

No decisions were made Tuesday, but discussion among authority members hinted on how a final vote might go.

It will be close.

Some authority members are skeptical that eliminating portions of the 13-acre savanna for future burial plots will bring any substantial revenue. Projections last month indicated portions of the savanna could recoup up to $3 million in revenues through traditional burials.

Also, the area is being considered for “green” burials, an increasingly popular burial method involving a body decomposing into the earth.

“Until the roads are fixed up, you will struggle to sell lots,” authority member James Hancock said. “It will take 11 years (to generate substantial revenue from sales) and that’s if we don’t bury anyone anywhere else in the cemetery.”

Others believe portions of it should be used to generate sales while reducing the cemetery’s annual deficit paid by taxpayers.

“I think one of our commitments on this board is to look at revenue growth,” said authority member George Merkle, who supports utilizing portions of the cemetery for green burials.

Members also questioned if any alterations to the savanna might jeopardize the authority’s voluntary agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 2007 designating the area as an Illinois Natural Heritage Landmark.

Merkle believes there might be a way to allow green burials within the savanna’s boundaries while keeping the agreement intact.

But authority member Allen Andrews said he wasn’t convinced a disruption in the savanna would produce the desirable amount of revenues as opposed the potential loss of reputation and relationships with environmentalists and volunteers who support conservation.

“We ought not to impair our agreement with IDNR,” Andrews said, “without a convincing reason to do so.”

Authority member Jeanette Hillyer agreed, saying, “We need to keep the agreement in some form. We need to keep developing green burials.”

She also expressed interest in strengthening relationships with Peoria Wilds, a volunteer group that maintains the savanna that has, in recent months, butted heads with cemetery management about the property’s future. The organization will give a presentation before next month’s vote on why they believe the savanna should be left alone.

“Our main concern is where they are going and what their final plan will be,” said Johnpaul McGreal, a member of the Peoria Wilds board, referring to the authority’s decision. “We, of course, want (development) to happen outside the (savanna’s) boundaries.”

Jon Austin, the cemetery’s general manager, said he believes some changes are in store for the savanna. How much, though, should be determined next month.

“There are very strong opinions in favor of doing absolutely nothing,” Austin said. “I doubt we’ll see nothing done. I think there are enough opinions to suggest, as I’ve said all along, we need to seek a compromise.”

John Sharp can be reached at 686-3282 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter @JohnSharp99.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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