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Cemetery repairs slowly moving forward

By Erin Smith

The cemetery in Elizabethtown is still waiting for repairs and a visit this week shows the devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence on the cemetery.

Recent rainfall in the past few weeks has led to some concerns about further soil movement at the cemetery. Eddie Madden, Town of Elizabethtown Manager stated the engineers working on the project do not anticipate any further significant damage to the cemetery.

He added, if the town experiences another significant rainfall event, such as Hurricane Florence or Hurricane Matthew, the engineers cannot assure the town staff the cemetery would not be further damaged in that instance.

Elizabethtown officials are also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding repairs to the damages that occurred to the town’s cemetery during Hurricane Florence. The soil erosion damages at the cemetery led to the formation of giant cracks along Queen Street and the shifting of soil in the cemetery. Engineers have performed soil borings and have learned the cracks in the surface of the cemetery are due to soil movement.

During the Elizabethtown Town Council’s planning retreat held in February, the board authorized town staff to submit a report to FEMA requesting funding for projects related to Hurricane Florence.

“We have provided them (FEMA) detailed cost estimates for several options,” said Madden.

Options for repairing the cemetery the town council has been studying include:

*To repair the cemetery to its pre-storm conditions which is estimated to cost $388,125.

*Repairing the cemetery to pre-hurricane Florence conditions and implementing solutions to reduce the frequency and severity of soil movement in future significant storms is estimated to cost $760,650.

*Leaving the graves where they are currently located and installing a 400-foot wall of underground sheet pile along the Cape Fear River and installing a drainage system. It has an estimated cost of $3.3 million.

*The town council has been considering the relocation of the cemetery as a viable option. This option is estimated to cost the town between $2.8 million and $3.2 million.

The solutions for repairing the cemetery are not simple. Madden explained that simply standing the tombstones back up and filling in the existing cracks with soil will not be adequate to return the cemetery to pre-storm conditions. Madden said the town staff are continuing to work with FEMA officials to try to work through the issues with the cemetery and to find a workable solution for the damages at the cemetery. He explained the project is complicated because it involves a cemetery.

“While there is no physical work taking place (at the cemetery), there is a lot of work that is occurring behind the scenes with FEMA to try to get funding,” said Madden.

There is still hope for other funding avenues to address the issues occurring with the cemetery. The town was notified in March by the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR). The town has been awarded a $2 million loan and a $500,000 grant.  As part of the grant application to the NCORR, Madden said the town requested $50,000 to perform a study of erosion issues not just at the cemetery but along the Cape Fear River inside the town limits.

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