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Neighbors raising a stink about Paris crematorium

Jim Morrison and Moliere are past caring, but their more animated neighbors are increasingly agitated: Paris' Pere-Lachaise cemetery is causing a stink.

"Not only is it a serious environmental problem, but we've been inundated with complaints about the smell," said Bertrand Bret, a politician representing residents of the 20th Arrondissement (district) of Paris, home of the most visited graveyard in the world."It's the crematorium that's the problem," Bret said. "Unless there is a wind, there is a sort of white cloud that hangs over the streets. People get a strong smell of grilling that's highly unappetizing and not exactly a stimulus to local business."

Pere-Lachaise is a vast, Gothic and often tumble-down final resting place for nearly a million souls, including Morrison, Chopin, Simone Signoret, Edith Piaf, Moliere, Bizet, Balzac and Proust. Some 1.5 million people visit it every year.

The cemetery, which houses the only functioning crematorium within the city limits, has fallen afoul of France's newfound enthusiasm for cremation.

French families incinerated nearly 12 percent of their departed last year, up from under 2 percent at the end of the '80s.

"Sadly, it's a lot cheaper," said Henri Beaulieu, deputy head of the cemetery service. "For a traditional burial you pay $4,240 just to lease a plot - and that's before you even think about the tomb. A cremation costs $800, with a perfectly acceptable urn for the ashes thrown in."

Unfortunately, like much of the rest of the cemetery, the ornate neo-classic crematorium is well over 100 years old. Built to handle a couple of hundred cremations a year, last year it performed 4,200.

"It's just not up to the job," said Pascal Moreaux, the crematorium director. "Two furnaces have reached the end of their useful lives, the chimneys are far too low and the filter system has broken down three times since the beginning of the summer. The whole thing comes nowhere near European Union emission standards."

The city wants to build a new complex on a site in Montparnasse but is encountering fierce opposition from locals there, too.

"Everyone knows we need a new facility in the capital, but unfortunately no one wants it under their windows," said Moreaux.

Until it is resolved, complaints from residents and the 1.5 million visitors who come each year for the peace, the quiet and the 70,000 tombs will only get louder.

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service.