Editor’s Note: A DPW report and the department’s possible recommendations about Shawsheen Cemetery will be considered during the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, October 13,
The town is responding on two fronts to complaints about the upkeep and turf management at Shawsheen Cemetery. But neither presents an immediate solution.
Town Manager Sarah A. Stanton, in a written response to a letter and petition, said she hopes an additional worker assigned to the Department of Public Works Grounds Division will make a difference.
Funding for that position was supposed to have been considered by the 2020 Annual Town Meeting but was dropped when town officials stripped the warrant to financial necessities in response to the pandemic and associated budget uncertainty. “I am hopeful, if the economy recovers in Bedford, we will be able to reinstate the positions for the next budget cycle,” the town manager wrote.
The solution to poor quality in parts of the turf, Stanton wrote, can best be addressed by the installation of an irrigation system in the cemetery, which could cost up to $2 million.
Stanton’s letter was displayed verbatim on a Facebook page by Joan Ogg, who had complained in a letter to the town manager and to The Bedford Citizen. DPW Director David Manugian said this week he does have an action plan for the cemetery but didn’t want to discuss the details until after he presents it to the Select Board at their meeting on Tuesday, October 13.
“The care and maintenance of the Shawsheen Cemetery are of utmost importance to the Department of Public Works, and town leadership,” Stanton wrote, “and this feedback is helpful in terms of areas that are important to residents and former residents.”
Stanton wrote that the grass in the newer portion of the historic cemetery was never expected to withstand a drought. “Knowing that an irrigation system was not in place or immediately forthcoming, and maintaining a lush green grass would be nearly impossible, the grass seed was a purposeful choice,” said her letter.
“Over the years, trying to accommodate the wants of community members for a greener cemetery, the DPW has replanted, and re-dug, much of that grass seed,” she explained. “Unfortunately, without a large-scale irrigation system and widespread re-soiling efforts, many areas of the cemetery are unable to support continued efforts to grow new grass.”
Stanton said she and the DPW will propose to the Select Board “the option to fund the future installation of a wide-spread irrigation system, in correspondence with the expansion of the existing cemetery property.” This could cost more than $2 million she reported. Manugian and his staff have drafted plans for an 1,800-plot cemetery expansion.
“This assumes that the property supports the engineering of such a system, and does not require additional site work and expense beyond initial estimates,” she wrote. “As you acknowledge, a summer with so little rain has made conditions at the cemetery certainly more challenging this season. An irrigation system, and re-soiling, would improve conditions as they currently exist.”
In a response on the Facebook page, Ogg acknowledged the challenges posed by the pandemic and the drought. But the deterioration has continued for years, she contended, asking, “What happened to the funds in the trust account for perpetual care? My sisters and myself shouldn’t have to be down there to weed, seed, or loam.”
Bedford has never had a dedicated cemetery department in the modern era. Stanton pointed out that DPW grounds employees are responsible for the upkeep, in addition to parks, sports fields, and the needs of schools and town buildings.
“The DPW cares very deeply about the maintenance and care of Shawsheen Cemetery,” Stanton declared. “Many of our DPW employees grew up in Bedford, still live in Bedford, have family members buried at the cemetery, and have worked for more than 30 years for the town.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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Correction, October 1, 2020: The date of the Select Board meeting where cemetery issues will be considered is October 13, not ‘next Monday’ as originally stated in this article.