Coastal resting place experienced years of unrest


The first few years of eternity haven't gone so well for people who paid up to $5,000 for their ashes to rest at a former lighthouse a mile off the Oregon coast.

Thousands of seabirds nested on the building and sidewalks. The owner says urns had to be moved when a boulder crashed through the roof. A state board denied a license for the operators. And it has been a decade since any remains were taken by helicopter to their final resting place.

As many as 300,000 urns were to be stored in niches in what is called a columbarium, a word derived from the Latin for dove and related to the compartments in which pigeons and doves were held.

Instead, the facility called Eternity at Sea has 30 urns on concrete blocks and wood &

owner Mimi Morissette reported two others missing in 1991 after vandals broke in.

A Milwaukie woman has complained to the Oregon attorney general's office, and spokeswoman Jan Margosian said the state is "going to be looking and seeing what is going on there ... to see if they violated any laws we have jurisdiction over."

Terri Reynolds said she has been unable to get an urn for her mother, Thelma Reynolds, who bought a place at Eternity at Sea in the 1980s. She said Morissette, explaining that she was fighting with the state mortuary board, offered a refund. "But that is not the issue," Reynold said. "The issue is she is not following through with the contract."

The lighthouse sits about a mile offshore midway between Cannon Beach and Seaside, perched on Tillamook Rock, 1,000 feet above the sea. It was built in 1880 and went out of business as a lighthouse in 1957.

The government sold it as surplus property, and it changed hands several times until Morissette bought it for $50,000 in 1979. She owns 51 percent of Eternity at Sea and has two co-owners.

In 1992, the owners granted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service an easement to protect breeding seabirds, and it became part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

"Up to 10,000 common murres were nesting on the building and the sidewalks and the stairs," said Roy Lowe, a biologist for the service. "They were all over the rock."

In 1999, the owners did not renew their license to operate the columbarium. The Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board required them to apply for a new one, and in 2005, after years of administrative wrangling, the board denied it.

The board said the owners continued doing business even after the license lapsed, that they failed to list vital statistics and other information on many of the dead, and that they misrepresented the facility by offering "niches."

Morissette said she intends to "defend the integrity of the structure," having put her parents' remains there. She calls the allegations trumped-up, from board members who want a piece of her business.

"The mortuary board just wants us to go away," she says. "We're not going to go away."

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