A recent ban on ground-level burial vaults in Livingston Parish cemeteries may be amended after impassioned pleas Thursday from residents who said the regulation violates their religious beliefs and creates financial hardships.
The Parish Council in March changed the parish's burial regulations to require that vaults be covered by at least 18 inches of soil. The ordinance arose in response to the August flood, which upended and emptied hundreds of ground-level burial vaults in cemeteries across the parish. Officials struggled for months to identify and reinter the caskets and remains that floated from their resting place.
Burials in Livingston Parish cemeteries will take on a different look after the Parish Counc…
Killian resident Alfred David told the council Thursday those regulations violate his religious beliefs and get in the way of people's wishes for how their mortal remains will be handled.
"I want to be buried above ground. I don't want to be buried in the dirt," David said. "You know, Jesus wasn't buried in the ground; he was buried in a vault. You're getting into 'church and state' and religion here. … This is my religion. This is what I want. And now all of a sudden, the council — I don't think y'all should do this."
The council agreed to give the issue another look by sending it to the Ordinance Committee.
David said he had been working on a cemetery plot for more than a decade, saving money and preparing the space "a little here, a little there." Changing the rules creates financial hardships for people who work for years to afford and prepare their site, he said.
"You can't buy a vault ahead of time if you have to bury it," he said.
Several council members suggested David should be grandfathered in or might qualify for a waiver of the new regulations.
Ray Gehagen, of Springfield, said he doesn't think a relatively small group of people like the council should have the right to decide for the majority of parish residents how their remains should be handled.
"You're talking about giving him a waiver," Gehagen said. "What about all the rest of us?"
David said the council should consider passing a tax — say, $100 — to put in escrow for damage done to parish cemeteries during future catastrophes.
"That would be more feasible than putting them underneath the ground," he said.
After struggling for months to identify remains and to reinter dozens of caskets and vaults …
Council Chairman Tracy Girlinghouse, who worked in the funeral home industry for 15 years, said burial vaults are not designed to be used above ground. Their lids and seals become brittle and easily damaged over time if they are not placed in damp earth, he said.
"It's not a good practice to put it above-ground, and you're asking for it to continue," he said, adding that changing the new rules would be reckless.
Councilmen Jeff Averett, of French Settlement, and Tab Lobell, of Springfield, said many residents in their low-lying districts are concerned about burying their vaults.
Lobell suggested one solution might be to require that above-ground vaults be restrained with some kind of device that would both anchor the vault to the ground and keep the lid on the vault.
"The choices would be restraint or the 18 inches of dirt," he said. "That's the direction we're moving."
What kind of device that would be is uncertain. Councilman Shane Mack, who chairs the Ordinance Committee, said the industry does not currently make anything for that purpose.
"It's going to be a difficult challenge, but I'm telling you now, we're willing to make it work," Mack said. "Our intent was to keep our loved ones' remains from floating away in a future flood, but we're definitely going to go back and take another look at it."