The Bedford Department of Public Works is moving forward with a short-term Shawsheen Cemetery plan that officials expect will meet demand while a larger, more complicated expansion is designed and developed.
Jeanette Rebecchi, DPW program manager, explained the details to the Board of Health at a meeting on Monday. The board approved the proposal, required under state law to convert municipal land to burial plots.
Rebecchi shared a diagram showing two rows of 44 four-plot clusters proposed for the cemetery’s eastern extremity, on the far side of the road that now runs along the boundary. Those sections are called Morningside; this one will be Morningside 5. There will be a total of 352 gravesites.
Sales will be only of family plots of four with a single headstone permitted on each. Single graves are available in other parts of the cemetery. According to the DPW website, “Based on the number of plots remaining within the existing cemetery compared to the rate of purchase, four grave lots (which permit a headstone) will be depleted much sooner than other types of lots.”
The new section has been approved by the Arbor Resources Committee, together with required tree replacement plans and mitigation payment. The state Department of Environmental Protection also has signed off; the DEP must approve cemetery locations near a water supply.
Use of the Shawsheen Road wellfield was suspended in 2019 because of chemical content in the water, but the wells have not been decommissioned.
Shawsheen Cemetery, which was established in 1849, has been expanded several times, Rebecchi pointed out. She said the larger planned expansion, which will produce hundreds of gravesites on contiguous land to the north, is in the preliminary phase with surveys and soil evaluation.
Morningside 5, Rebecchi said, “will buy us three to five years before we expand again.” The website says that work is targeted for fiscal year 2028. The larger expansion could be developed piecemeal, she noted; “I don’t see the need to clear-cut the whole thing.” And there may even be a Morningside 6 on the east end, she added.
Select Board members double as cemetery commissioners, and they are expected to give final approval at a meeting in December. Sales of the new family plots are expected to be available during the winter when clearance will begin. The new area should be ready for burials in the summer of 2024, Rebecchi said.
Board member Maureen Richichi suggested that the larger expanded area include provisions for “green burials.” She cited a national survey result in which 53 percent of respondents were interested in that approach. Richichi added that chemicals used in embalming are harmful to the environment.
The Board of Health’s role in the expansion process is to ensure those chemicals don’t impact water supply, Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter told the board. She said her office signs off on burials after reviewing death certificates to confirm that there is no threat of communicable disease.
Rebecchi said that currently the cemetery requires that graves be lined with concrete vaults to stabilize the land.