PORTLAND (AP) – Maine is poised to begin accreditation for businesses that offer cremations at a time when people are turning more and more to crematoriums in Maine and across the nation.

The Legislature this year enacted a bill that requires the Department of Health and Human Services to create regulations for licensing crematoriums.

There are currently five crematoriums in Presque Isle, Saco, Auburn and Bangor, which has two, and a sixth has been proposed for Freeport.

Chris Stilkey, president of the Maine State Cemetery Association, said his group has been pressing the state for requirements.

“We want the public to know that not only have we (Maine’s crematories) been running for years in the correct way, but we’re so confident, we’re asking for oversight,” Stilkey said. “We hope that Maine will have licenses by this time next year.”

Stilkey is superintendent of Burr Cemetery in Freeport, where the privately owned cemetery’s board of directors is proposing a crematory. The plan is for the nonprofit Lighthouse Crematory initially to perform 300 to 350 cremations a year and charge $300 per cremation, which he said is a bit below the average rate of $325, he said.

Officials with the two largest crematories, Brooklawn in Portland and Gracelawn Memorial Park in Auburn, say the state has no need for an additional crematory. Those facilities each do about 2,000 a year and could easily handle more business.

“The machines are really nowhere near their capacity,” said Dan Fuller, executive director of Gracelawn, which he said is the oldest crematory in Maine, dating to 1937.

While there is debate about whether Maine needs more crematories, everyone agrees that demand for cremation is growing.

More than 53 percent of Mainers who died in 2005 were cremated, the ninth-highest rate in the nation, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Maine has seen a large increase since 2000, when 44 percent of Maine deaths resulted in cremation. The cremation association projects that Maine’s rate will climb to nearly 63 percent by 2010.

David Morgan, president and owner of Brooklawn, believes that national standards and accreditation are necessary.

Because cremation is so irrevocable, he said, “I’m a huge fan of making people accountable in this kind of business.”

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-11-15-07 1320EST

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