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FEMA denies Riverside Cemetery derecho funds

T-R PHOTOS BY LANA BRADSTREAM — Riverside Cemetery General Manager Dorie Tammen reads the rejection letter received from FEMA. Initially, the cemetery was approved for funds to help pay for derecho damage, but the federal agency then switched.

The historic Riverside Cemetery is having a hard time catching a break. They did get approved for a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Marshall County, but then got denied for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.

The denial came as a surprise to Riverside General Manager Dorie Tammen, especially when they were approved in December.

“The next thing I knew, we got a letter saying we were denied,” she said. “I was crushed. And it was because non-profit cemeteries are specifically excluded from the list of non-profit organizations that can receive funding. Why? I have no idea.”

Tammen is reaching out to various local and state officials to find out the answers.

“I want to push this a little further,” she said. “It seems like . . . we’re a historic cemetery and we got approved initially and then denied. I just don’t understand why. If cemeteries are automatically excluded, why did we get initial approval?”

Tammen really wants to find the answers, or get pointed in the direction of a FEMA official who could help her.

After the cemetery was notified of the initial approval, Tammen was unsure as to how much money would come their way. Was it going to be $20,000, $200,000 or something else?

A brief thought was to appeal the decision, but it was quickly determined that course of action would not bear any fruit as rules were clearly stated in the rejection letter.

“It’s pretty cut and dry what their response was,” Tammen said. “They did not say we had to do this or we were missing that. They said we don’t qualify, but that seems so bizarre to me. We probably had the worst damage in town, if I had to guess.”

In the Riverside office, Tammen has a thick file folder dedicated to the effort to secure FEMA funding, where she has saved all communications and documents. For example, after she sent in the application to FEMA in September, she was asked to provide the bylaws for Riverside. The original bylaws were written in 1863, but Tammen managed to find a newer version written in 1972.

Any amount of FEMA money would have helped, since Riverside was hit hard by the August derecho. The cemetery has an outstanding bill of $230,000 to Top Notch Tree Service of Marshalltown, which showed up hours after the storm passed and began clearing out the large amount of downed and broken trees.

“We’ve paid them just about $500,000,” Tammen said. “Half of that came from a loan from the perpetual care trust fund, which we also have to pay back. When we’re done paying Top Notch, we have to pay the trust fund.”

The trust fund is regulated by the Iowa Insurance Division and Riverside had to submit a request for the funds, which are earmarked for major projects in cemeteries, such as emergency repairs or construction of mausoleums.

“It’s an interest-free loan, but it has to be paid back within five years,” Tammen said.

Donations to pay for derecho repairs have slowed considerably. Tammen hopes to draw attention to the GoFundMe page set up for repairs. The $500,000 fund was created Aug. 22, 12 days after the derecho. Since that time, $10,350 has been donated.

The money from the CFMC cannot be used for expenses already incurred, so Tammen said they are using it for monument repair.

“Twenty thousand dollars is not going to be anywhere near what is needed to repair the monuments here,” she said.

There is still a lot more derecho damage that needs repairs, such as replacing the American flag pole in the military section and fencing which surrounds the property.

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Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or

lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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