Monday, September 29, 2003

Animal ashes spread on farm; some look askance

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A woman who cremates animals and spreads their ashes on her farm says she's doing pet owners a favor.

But her neighbors and government officials say she may be breaking the law and endangering a protected waterway.

Cynthia Schmitt began the service about a month ago. She takes animals' remains to a crematorium she built in Madison County, then spreads the ashes at an organic tree farm on 46 acres she owns about 4 miles away in Franklin County. The land abuts the Big Darby Creek.

"This way pets can help preserve land and give back to nature. It's a dignified way of saying goodbye," said Schmitt, who has created a memorial garden nearby where owners can grieve.

Tammy Noble, assistant director of the Franklin County Development Department, said that because the ashes come from Schmitt's business in Madison County, she needs a commercial use permit to spread ashes on her farm.

Department officials sent Schmitt a letter two weeks ago outlining their concerns, Noble said.

Bob Gable, scenic river program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said Schmitt may be violating an agricultural easement agreement she signed with the state.

Under the agreement, the department paid her $170,000 to preserve 42 acres of her property.

Gable said the easement prohibits her from operating a business on the land. He said officials haven't checked Schmitt's property for about six months, but plan to investigate.

Schmitt wanted to build the crematorium on her farm in 2002, but moved it to Madison County amid challenges from neighbors and concerns from Franklin County and state authorities.

She said she consulted several agencies and believes she has met most, if not all, the requirements for her service.

Organic farmers are certified to use natural products such as bone char, bone ash and blood meal as fertilizer, said Steve Sears of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

He said Schmitt is the only farmer in the state that uses pet ash as fertilizer.

Neighbors who objected to Schmitt's plans last year said they fear the ashes she's spreading will wash into and pollute the creek.

Linn Horn, a neighbor, said she hopes Schmitt is following county and state guidelines.

"There should be no threat to the aquatic life and health of the Big Darby Creek, a national scenic river in which untold millions of local, state, and federal tax dollars have been invested," Horn said.

Gable said it would take a lot of ashes to pose a risk.

"If you start dumping a dump truck full near the stream, it could have an impact," he said.

"But if it's just a small amount hundreds of feet away, there's much less of an impact," Gable said.

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