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Maine's largest cemetery is running out of burial space

Nearly 65,000 people are buried in Portland's Evergreen Cemetery. Right now, there are roughly 40 slots left, according to the city's director of cemeteries.

PORTLAND, Maine — Many of us know, Maine is facing a severe housing shortage. But what you might not know —  some places in the state, are also running out of space underground.

Portland's Evergreen Cemetery is the largest in the state. Nearly 65,000 people are buried there, but burial spots are running out and other cemeteries in the city are at capacity.  

"A liberal estimate is there are about 40 lots left in [Evergreen Cemetery],"  Portland Director of Cemeteries Mike Ciamaga said.

Before coming to Portland, Ciamage worked a similar job in Brooklyn, NY, and is familiar with the same issue he's facing here in Maine. 

"Of course, down there we had a spacing and land problem, so I've been kind of dealing with this throughout my whole 25-year career," Ciamaga told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

The last remaining lots at Evergreen could be filled by the end of the year, but it's hard to say for sure, Ciamaga said. He has proposed plans to Portland's Historic Preservation Board to create around 700 new burial lots at the cemetery, which are expected to last eight to 10 years. 

"There's a bit of a time crunch to get going as soon as possible," he explained.

Ultimately, the expansion needs to be approved by the Historic Preservation board, which will decide if the plans meet city laws.

"We don’t want to depart too far from the character of the cemetery," Portland Historic Preservation Chair Rober O'Brien said. "We might be looking for more of a compromise where the layout might need to meet modern logistical needs for maintenance and to allow for as many people as possible to avail themselves of the lots in the future."

Knowing space is already limited, the issue is leading Ciamaga to think about the future of cemeteries and how Mainers may be laid to rest.

"It's coming up with ways to store cremated remains," Ciamaga said. "Our first kind of step in that direction is a columbarium, which is sort of a wall of what we call nitches. Inside each nitch, you can put two cremated remains inside. That kind of solves the problem that you don't need land to bury. You can build up."

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