The long wait appears to be coming to an end for those hoping to see Greenwood Memorial Park in Centralia restored to a condition worthy of those interred on the grounds.
The Washington Senate passed Engrossed House Bill 1801 by a 47-0 margin on Thursday, setting the stage for it to be signed in short order by legislative leaders and then Governor Jay Inslee.
The legislation allows public bodies such as local governments to petition the state Department of Archaeology and Preservation for access to privately owned, abandoned cemeteries.
Those agencies would not assume ownership of the land, but would be able to facilitate “burials, care and maintenance activities, and visitation of graves.” An emergency clause attached to the bill by state Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and co-sponsor of the bill state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, would have it take effect the moment Inslee adds his signature.
DeBolt and Orcutt shepherded the bill through the state House, where it passed by a 98-0 vote. Senator Dean Takko, D-Longview, took up the mantle in the state Senate, where he gave a summary prior to the vote on Thursday.
“It’s kind of sad that around our state, we have a number of cemeteries that are abandoned and don’t seem to have the respect for people who came before us,” Takko said. “… This will allow those people to take care of those cemeteries and hopefully get them back into better shape than they are today.”
Orcutt told The Chronicle that he was working Friday to determine a timeline for getting the bill signed by Lieutenant Gov. Cyrus Habib, president of the state Senate, and Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. Those along with signatures from the Secretary of the Senate and Chief Clerk of the House will send it to Inslee’s desk.
Local volunteers worked diligently in past years to perform upkeep of Greenwood Memorial Park, but the to-do list has quickly grown since the Washington State Funeral and Cemetery Board deemed it abandoned in 2014.
“Hopefully we can get some work done out (at Greenwood) prior to Memorial Day,” Orcutt said. “Now that it’s passed the Senate, I’m going to see how quickly we can get it signed and put into effect.”
Senator John Braun, R-Centralia, said Orcutt and DeBolt deserve a “well done” for their work on the bill. Braun voted in favor of what he deemed a good piece of legislation that allows local control of an important part of a community.
DeBolt said that as he and Orcutt have worked on their bill throughout the legislative session, they’ve come across more and more graveyards that could be impacted by the new processes.
It might not seem like a huge legislative victory in the grand scheme of things, DeBolt added, but it matters a great deal to families who have seen graves of loved ones fall into disrepair.
“It gives our communities and nonprofits a chance to step in and legally help improve these cemeteries,” Braun said. “Just for general community goodwill and for the folks who are buried there or have spots for future use.”
Centralia officials have already indicated they have no plans to facilitate burials at Greenwood due to the lack of paperwork required to be maintained by ownership. It’s not clear who the primary landowner is — longtime owner John C. Baker oversaw its fall into a mess of broken concrete and overgrown brush, but county records show the parcel was sold in 2015 to SBC Investments Partners, LLC.
City Manager Rob Hill said Friday his office is waiting to see what sort of funding becomes available for cleanup efforts before putting anything in motion. He hopes to be able to provide an update at the city council meeting scheduled for April 23.