Maine Considers Allowing Outdoor Cremations

Lawmakers in Maine are considering a proposal to allow non-profits with at least 20 acres of land to cremate people by pyre, a practice carried out in places like India and Nepal

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Maine could become one of the only states in the country allowing open-air cremations.

On April 8, lawmakers on the Maine legislature's Health and Human Services Committee will conduct a hearing on allowing the practice, which is carried out in places like India and Nepal.

The draft of the proposed law being considered would allow non-profits with at least 20 acres of land to cremate people by pyre.

Behind the effort is Good Ground Great Beyond, a non-profit founded by Angela Lutzenberger, an interfaith chaplain from Brunswick and longtime Buddhist who says she, her husband and others in Maine would like this option as part of their final wishes when they pass on.

"This was always a disposition option that made sense to use, both of us want this, whoever goes first," said Lutzenberger during a Monday interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston, adding that she has attended cremations in the past and "it tends to be a tremendously powerful experience."

The bill text, sponsored by state Sen. Eloise Vitelli, a Democrat, is the result of years of work by Lutzenberger, who formed Good Ground Great Beyond in 2018 and then purchased 63 acres of land to build a pyre in rural Dresden, Maine, in 2019.

"I happen to live in Brunswick, so I wanted to find land proximate enough to where I live," said Lutzenberger, explaining that she "needed to stay rural at the same time" in an area that had enough space to not disrupt other people.

She settled on her site in Dresden because it had the space, proximity and road access she had been searching for.

"If this all goes according to plan, it'll very much be the Maine version of pyres we see in Colorado," Lutzenberger said when asked what people should expect at the site.

Lutzenberger explained she had been in touch with friends who staff funeral pyres authorized there, and a similar setup, with high 1,500-degree heat and wood, including scented branches, would likely be part of her eventual vision if it is approved.

She pointed out that adobe was used as a building material in the Colorado pyres, but that likely would not be an option in Maine.

In Dresden, people at area businesses Monday said they had heard about Good Ground Great Beyond's plans and there were a range of opinions.

Some residents were opposed to the project, some wanted more information about it and some were very supportive, including one man named Michael who said "that would not bother me at all, it's a person's right," even though he would like to be cremated in a standard indoor setting.

Asked about local concerns about smells and smoke from the pyre, Lutzenberger said that in her experience, "the smell is actually not an issue at all because there's a lot of wood being burned," including the scented branches.

There can be some initial "billowing" smoke as scented branches are burned, but overall, "because of high heat, particulate matter isn't really a problem," she added.

Lutzenberger also said she did not necessarily expect skeptics in Dresden to come around to her side immediately and that she is hoping at least some will allow her to demonstrate and fully explain what she is trying to do, so they can have a more complete understanding of it.

"I totally honor where people sit with this. There are people who will never want something like this, I totally respect that, it makes sense to me," she said, adding that she hopes "we can make space for each other."

As for what local permits she might need from the town to allow pyres, Lutzenberger said she did not immediately know because the effort is so unique.

She said she believes only Maine residents will be allowed to be cremated at the pyre and, if approved, a system to pre-register for a cremation would be set up.

Contact Us