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Months After Storm, Water Woes Continue

Haunted Trail saved by twisted bridge, Masonic Lodge still ineligible for FEMA funding.

Nearly three months after heavy rains flooded parks and trails in the Town of Clifton, bridges are waiting to be repaired and a historic building is in jeopardy.

Clifton Mayor Tom Peterson said that despite a Town Council decision earlier this month declaring the bridge unsafe, the Haunted Trail will be scheduled for late in October, because the bridge around Buckley Park is sturdy enough for people to walk across.

"We're going to get [the Haunted Trail] done," Peterson said. "We've built up so much momentum, I'm afraid if we don't put it on this year it may be difficult to start up again."

Concerns about the elevated bridge in Buckley Park, which was washed off its abutments during the storm at the end of June, raised concerns about how the Haunted Trail would be managed this year, Peterson said. The trail is a series of skits written and performed by residents at stations around Buckley Park, also known as the Eight Acre Park.

"Everything will go on as usual this year," Peterson said.

The bridge was damaged during the flood, he said, when water washed away some of the shoreline and the abutments fell apart.

IN ADDITION, a large tree was knocked over onto the bridge, but residents volunteered to remove the tree, said Peterson.

Councilmember Wayne Nickum said he put up 4-feet-tall pieces of plywood at either end of the bridge to keep people off it until repairs were made earlier this summer, after the council declared the bridge unsafe for pedestrians.

"We wanted to keep people off it until it could be fixed," Nickum said.

Recently, engineers from FEMA looked at the bridge and determined it was safe to walk on, opening up the trail and park to host the Haunted Trail once again.

The Town of Clifton has been notified that it will receive $3,200 toward cleaning up the park, Nickum said. An additional $62,000 has been set aside for "permanent repairs" to the bridge and its abutments, along with mitigation for the stream bank.

"FEMA will pay 75 percent of that $62,000, the state will pay something like 13 percent and we'll be responsible for the rest of the funding," Nickum said.

Because state and federal money will be used, the Town Council will discuss putting the work on the bridge out for bids during its Tuesday, Oct. 3 meeting.

The greatest cost in repairing the bridge may be replacing the abutments, Peterson said. "They're pretty twisted right now," he said, which may just add to the ambiance during the Haunted Trail. "You can walk on it now, it's just a little crooked which is perfect for Halloween."

THE ACACIA Masonic Lodge in Clifton has not received the same good news from FEMA.

According to William Baumbach, a spokesman for the Lodge, he was notified on Sept. 8 that the building is not eligible for FEMA funding.

In an e-mail Baumbach received from Nealia Dabney with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the lodge is not eligible for funding because it is not considered a public facility.

"The primary purpose of the lodge was a mill building used as a meeting hall," Dabney wrote to Baumbach on Sept. 8. "FEMA states that the term 'community center' is popularly used to describe a wide variety of facilities, many of which are not eligible for assistance."

She added that "a facility that was not founded as a community center would not be an eligible community center."

Baumbach said he's planning to appeal the decision, facing a cost of $70,000 to lift the century-old building in order to pour a foundation so the former mill doesn't get flooded again.

"So far, we've spent $8,000 just to design a foundation, which has pretty much exhausted all the donations we've received to this point," Baumbach said. "That doesn't count the $70,000 to raise the building and pour the foundation."

In order to be above the flood plain, the lodge will have to be raised six feet above its current footing, Baumbach said.

"Of course, we're in a resource protection area and we're not allowed to change the footprint of the building," he said. "Plus, according to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Protection Ordinance, we can't disturb more than 2,500 feet of dirt or dig deeper than 18 inches below where we are now."

Some talk about shutting the lodge and looking for a different place to meet, or possibly tearing down the building and reconstructing the lodge have occurred, but Baumbach said that decision hasn't been made yet.

"For now, our plans [for the foundation] have been submitted to the Town [Council] and if they approve it, it'll go on to the county," Baumbach said. "This is going to take months and months. ... Eventually, we'll have to make repairs to the inside of the building, but there's no point in doing that until we have the new foundation."

Peterson said the Town Council is committed to helping the Masons restore their lodge. "It looks like they're raising money themselves, and of course we'll help however we can," he said.