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Leaving No Stone Unturned

Clifton’s Masons are still hoping for a federal helping hand to repair their flood-damaged lodge.

More than a month after a swollen Popes Head Creek badly damaged the first floor of the Acacia Masonic Lodge in Clifton, members of the Masons are waiting to hear if the federal or state government will provide any financial aid to rebuild their home.

According to an early decision by the Federal Emergency Management Association, the Masonic Lodge, is “not eligible” for disaster relief, said Clifton mayor Tom Peterson.

The agency suggested that the Masons install flood-proofing equipment, like a series of waterproof doors and walls, instead of their plan to raise the building between four and five feet to pour a foundation, he said.

“With a 100-year-old building, if you raise it after it’s already been moved, it might implode,” Peterson said of FEMA’s recommendation. “That building is on our historic registry, we want to do everything we can to save it.”

A red and yellow banner on the door of the lodge shows that the Masons are accepting “non-solicited donations,” because they are not legally allowed to raise funds on their own behalf, said William Baumbach, a member of the Clifton lodge.

While trying to determine the lodge’s future, Baumbach said the group has been “getting good support from the governor on down to the local senators and delegates,” however, he remains “skeptical of this whole political thing. There’s a lot of wheels going but nothing’s been set in motion yet.”

In the meantime, Baumbach said the Masons were hoping that FEMA might change its decision, if they can prove that the building is open for community events at least half of the time it is open.

“It’s a requirement put on all government and certain non-profit organizations, they have to prove that you’re a benefit to the community and open to the public,” Baumbach said.

The Clifton Town Council has often met inside the Acacia Lodge, he said, and the Lions Club has met there as well. Additionally, the lodge is open for community-wide pancake breakfasts, blood-drives and other events.

“It looks to me like we are an important part of the Clifton community,” said Baumbach, adding that the Masons open the lodge for “guided tours of what I feel is museum-quality items” from time to time.

While waiting for a second opinion from FEMA, Baumbach said the Masons were looking into securing a small business loan that would pay for lifting the building to pour a foundation under it.

“We’re also trying to deal with the Clifton Betterment Association, who owns the land behind the lodge, because if we get the OK on the loan, we’ll have to tear down the back bathrooms downstairs and I think we’d like to make that area a little bigger,” he said.

Bob Spieldemner, director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said that the lodge’s claims were “still kind of being checked out. Normally, it wouldn’t qualify for public assistance, but it could potentially meet our criteria.”

The amount of time the lodge is open to the public plays “a significant role” in the possibility of the Masons receiving federal aid, Spieldemner said.

“There’s still a discussion going on between the state and FEMA,” he said. “We haven’t really ruled one way or the other.”