FEMA denies Riverside appeal

Tough times and hard news continue for Riverside Cemetery. General Manager Dorie Tammen received word the Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied the latest funding appeal.

After the August 2020 derecho ripped through the cemetery and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damages, Tammen applied for FEMA funds to help pay for the repairs. The cemetery was initially approved for FEMA funds in December — three months after applying — and then got denied in March. Tammen said even though FEMA made that decision in February, the cemetery was not informed about it until the following month. On May 18, cemetery officials appealed the denial. Now, FEMA has denied the appeal.

“The denial is significant because we are now on our own to raise the funds to pay for the expense of clean-up and restoration,” Tammen said. “There may be a glimmer of hope for cemeteries like ours in the future.”

Even though the initial request was approved, she found out non-profit cemeteries in particular are not allowed to receive FEMA funding, which is why the first denial was passed. She does not know why that rule is in place. Tammen said some elected officials are attempting to pursue changes in the rules that would allow non-profit cemeteries damaged in disasters to receive FEMA assistance.

“It’s hard for me to specify accurately what we would have gained simply because we had, and have, no idea how much funding we might receive from an approved application,” she said. “Whatever the amount, it would at least have reduced our debt for tree removal, if not eliminating it altogether.”

The derecho tore trees from the ground, broke them in half and sent huge branches flying across the grounds. That left the cemetery with a $700,000 tree removal bill. After the derecho passed, Top Notch Tree Service went to Riverside immediately, even though the storm severely damaged the business.

“We have a bit over $160,000 left to pay on the tree removal bill, which started out at $700,000 — after a $130,000 donation from Top Notch Tree service — and we have $250,000 to repay into our Perpetual care Trust Fund which is money the state allowed us to borrow from that fund in a five-year, interest-free loan,” Tammen said. “So basically, while we’ve paid off $540,000 to Top Notch, $250,000 of that was a loan that still needs to be repaid.”

Tree removal was not the only financial hardship Riverside had to face as many of the trees damaged monuments and tombstones. Repair of those is not cheap and many of them belong to deceased with no more living family members. Since monuments belong to the lot owners, Tammen said insurance will not cover the repairs.

“We can’t leave these old monuments tipped over or broken, so we have a responsibility regardless, to fix them,” she said. “We received $20,000 in grant money from the Community Foundation of Marshall County for monument repair, but that’s already used up.”

The Riverside grounds crew has been resetting some monuments, but that is an expense in labor and materials, too.

“We’re really grateful to our gravedigger, Tracy Tichy, for donating his services to reset some of the bigger, tipped over monuments that our equipment can’t handle, and to Central Iowa Machine Shop for some donated services and materials, as well,” Tammen said. “I also have to mention that Greg Brown with Ace Precision International here in town was kind enough to advocate on behalf of Riverside with a few state and US legislators during the appeal process.”

There is also fencing to replace, and insurance did not cover the cost of replacing all of the fencing — just the broken sections.

“We feel strongly that all of the fencing needs to be replaced,” Tammen said. “We can’t have brand new sections in between old worn sections.

The next move now that the appeal was denied is to continue fundraising. Tammen said the cemetery has some plans on the backburner. As soon as details are finalized, those plans will be made public. She encouraged people to help by donating. Tammen also suggested people could list Riverside as a beneficiary when doing estate planning and making out wills.

A $500,000 GoFundMe account was created to help pay for the derecho damage. So far, $10,650 has been given.


Contact Lana Bradstream

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