By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — "Imagine if you are me," Doug Fredrick, owner of the American Police Motorcycle Museum, told the selectmen this week, "and you have to listen to this for seven days a week, ten hours a day and smell it. It's beyond disgusting."
Frederick was referring to the sound, smell and ash from the crematory at the Mayhew Funeral Home, owned and operated by Peter Mayhew, abutting his property on US Route 3 across from McDonald's.
"We simply want this situation corrected," he told the board.
He explained that because the crematory is 15 feet down slope of his lot, its chimney reaches only to the second story of the building housing the museum, causing emissions to collect and ash to fall on his property. He suggested that adding 15 or 20 feet to the chimney would enable emissions and ash to clear his property and disperse in the air.
Town Manager Phil Warren said the town has no authority to address Fredrick's complaints since crematories are regulated by state agencies. The construction and operation of crematories are licensed and overseen by Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers while the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services enforces emission standards.
"To the best of my knowledge," Warren said, the Mayhew Funeral Home has a clean bill of health from them both."
Nevertheless, Warren said that he visited the funeral home to witness a cremation at 7 a.m. yesterday. "There was no smoke, no ash and no smell," he said, "and the ambient noise level was below that of the traffic on Route 3." He acknowledged that the effects of emissions from the crematory are dependent on the prevailing atmospheric conditions, recalling that a week earlier, when the ceiling was low and the humidity was high, smoke from a nearby wood stove hovered over both the funeral home and the museum.
Likewise, Warren said the funeral home performs some 220 cremations a year, usually two and rarely three a day. Because the crematory operates at 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generated by 1.95 million BTUs, the unit requires a lengthy period to cool down.
Frederick expressed his concerns to the Board of of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers on Sept. 9, 2015. On Oct. 21, the executive director of the board informed him that "the Board reviewed the documents and photos you submitted, as well as information and photos supplied by Peter Mayhew. Based upon the investigation conducted by the Board," the letter continued, "no violations of administrative rules or state statutes that govern funeral homes or crematories were found."
Frederick questioned the board's findings, pointing out that he had surveillance videos, numerous photographs, ash residue and a daily log, none of which were analyzed in the course of its investigation. Nor, he said, did anyone from the board visit his property. He called the board "an absolute perversion of government, as it is blatantly self-serving."
Frederick, who only learned of the crematory after he acquired the abutting property in 2010, has also challenged the process by which it was approved, claiming it "was done in secrecy," contrary to local zoning ordinances and state law. In 2010, the Meredith Code Enforcement Officer, the late Bill Edney, approved the project in an administrative decision that required neither notification of abutting property owners nor a public hearing before the Planning Board.
Planning Director Angela LaBreque said that when Edney received Mayhew's application for the crematory consulted with other funeral homes and state agencies and concluded that crematories were common accessory uses at funeral homes. Although the crematory required extensive modification to the interior of the building, the footprint remained the same. The addition of the chimney, essential to the operation of the crematory, was the only change to the outside of the building. LaBrecque informed Mayhew that she and Edney agreed "it is not necessary for you to appear before the Meredith Planning Board for a site plan amendment to provide cremation services."
Warren said that administrative decisions can be appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, but by the time Frederick became aware of what transpired, the time for lodging an appeal had expired.
At the same time, in 2010 the rules of the Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers required those applying to operate a crematory to include the notice of any required public hearing with their application. The rule has since been repealed, but at the time the board found that it did not apply to Mayhew's application since the town required no public hearing.
Warren said that he could find no case law in New Hampshire bearing on Edney's decision, but did discover a ruling by the Tennessee Court of Appeals. When petitioners sued the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, which permitted a crematory over their objections, the court of appeals upheld the city's decision, ruling that "a crematory is properly considered an accessory use to a funeral home."
Warren said that he would like to resolve the issue, but repeated that the town has no authority over either the operation of the crematory or its emissions. However, he has recommended that Frederick test the ash residues he has collected from his property. Frederick said that the $5,000 cost of testing is prohibitive, but Warren said he is seeking a less expensive alternative. Meanwhile, Warren said he will continue to monitor the property from time to time and urged Fredrick to immediately report any adverse effects of emissions from the crematory to him.