Grave concerns: FEMA may fix cemetery damages

Published 5:56 am Friday, February 10, 2017

Concerns about the city’s cemeteries have been a topic of discussion at many recent Bogalusa City Council meetings, and on Tuesday citizens got some good news about funding available to fix some of the damages left behind by last March’s flooding.

Ryan Seidemann, assistant attorney general at the Louisiana Department of Justice, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and explained that some federal funding may be available to address flood-related damages at Bogalusa and Ponemah cemeteries.

Seidemann said that the state is aware of 13 parishes that had cemeteries impacted by flooding last year. That is a total of more than 70 cemeteries statewide.

There has been some confusion about whether FEMA funding would be available to address damages at the city’s cemeteries. The land is owned by the city, but then sold to individual families who wish to purchase grave plots. The city maintains and continues to own the spaces between the plots, as well as the roads and other land in the cemetery campus.

City officials believed that FEMA money could not be used to fix most of the cemetery damages, because the city can only use FEMA funding to fix “public” property, such as parks and government buildings. It cannot be used for individual gravesites, since they are technically no longer owned by the city.

Seidemann said it is true that the city cannot receive any money from FEMA to fix individual gravesites. However, the plot landowners can receive FEMA money as individuals, in the same way that homeowners can receive FEMA funding for personal damages to their property.

“They qualify under the individual FEMA program for what is called ‘funeral assistance,’” said Seidemann, noting that he does not work for FEMA or the federal government, but was visiting Bogalusa on behalf of the state in order to make sure that the federal money gets to individuals in a timely manner.

Seidemann said that FEMA agreed to extend the deadline for applying for individual gravesite assistance, because there was some confusion about qualification requirements. He noted that money can not be given to a public entity like a city, or to a large group like a church — it can only be claimed by an individual.

However, he explained that the individual making the claim does not have to be the legal owner of the gravesite. Any “Good Samaritan” who wishes to maintain a plot can apply for the FEMA assistance, Seidemann said.

FEMA will allow for any individual to register for up to four gravesites said Seidemann, noting that four local individuals have already come forward to register for funds.

Seidemann said that the funding cap is $33,000 per individual, and it is a grant and not a loan, so nothing needs to be repaid.

Some of the damages that might qualify under the FEMA program include displaced vaults, cracked vault exterior or toppled gravestones, although there are also many other examples.

Several citizens asked about leaking graves at the Bogalusa Cemetery, and he said he was unsure those damages would qualify because there is “nothing evident to suggest that is a flood problem.” However, he noted that he was open to the possibility of re-assessing those concerns in the future.