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2017-10-06 digital edition

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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


October 6, 2017  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Gravesite visits suspended; damage estimate climbs

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Chapel Hill cemetery is open for funerals but closed to other visitors due to damage from hurricane Irma. Chapel Hill cemetery is open for funerals but closed to other visitors due to damage from hurricane Irma. Although Chapel Hill Memorial Park cemetery in Largo is still conducting burials, damage sustained during Hurricane Irma has forced closure of the grounds until further notice for those wishing to make gravesite visits.

The cemetery, owned by the non-profit Jewish Burial Society of Pinellas County, could remain closed to visitors for months, depending on how quickly funds are raised to repair the extensive damage.

Already, community members have contributed $12,000 for repairs, but that does not come close to the $93,000 needed to restore the facility to pre-storm conditions.

Efforts to raise the needed funds got a boost this week when the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties approved money and a no-interest loan, but more is still needed.

Shortly after Irma blew through last month, Doug Negretti, chairman of the Jewish Burial Society, said damage repair estimates ranged from $50,000 to $75,000. Now, with updated repair estimates, that figure has risen to $93,000, he said, and could climb higher once the extent of damage to the irrigation system is known.

“We are still holding burial services. That never stopped. We have had six burials since the storm. But we rope off the rest of the cemetery when we have burials and we are not allowing people to visit the graves of loved ones because we are afraid someone could fall into a hole and get hurt,” said Negretti. When a burial service is not taking place, the entrances to the cemetery are blocked.

He noted that the Jewish portion of the cemetery was largely unscathed by the hurricane, but other sections of the cemetery were not so fortunate.

When eight huge trees and 20 medium sized ones were blown down by Irma, the roots of the toppled trees destroyed storm sewage and irrigation lines and left gaping holes in the ground. In one case, a casket entangled in roots of a large tree was unearthed when the tree toppled. The casket has since been reburied, Negretti said, and the downed trees, save for stumps and roots, have mostly been cut and cleared from the cemetery.

“I have everything lined up to get repaired. We plan to replace anything broken,” Negretti said.

“Half of the drainage system is knocked out and the irrigation main was destroyed, so we need to replace the main. Then we can turn the irrigation system on, zone by zone, to tell how much of it is damaged,” he said.

“To get it all back where it was before, it will probably take six months,” he said. Even if all work is not done right away, he is hoping the large tree stumps can be removed and the ground can be leveled so gravesite visitations can resume in about a month.

Some help is on the way.

Jewish Federation Executive Director Emilie Socash said the board met Tuesday night, Oct. 3 and took the following action:

• The Federation will advance the 2017-18 allocation of $10,000 to be paid immediately and applied to the urgent needs.

• The Federation will give an additional $10,000 in funding as an incentive match to monies raised by local synagogues.

• The Federation will loan the Burial Society up to $30,000 as quickly as it’s needed, interest-free with flexible repayment timing.

Socash said she also submitted a request for $25,000 on behalf of the Burial Society to the national emergency fund of Jewish Federations of North America. She said he hopes to know in the next couple of weeks if that will be funded.

Negretti said the damage is not covered by insurance.

Earlier this year, on April 1, cemetery officials marked the sixth anniversary of the Burial Society, formed by members of St. Petersburg’s Congregation B’nai Israel and Temple Beth-El, purchasing the 15-acre facility. At the time of the purchase from a national cemetery company, Burial Society members pledged to restore and upgrade the facility, which had been in decline.

In the years since, a variety of improvements have been made there, including repairing the irrigation system, refinishing the roads, upgrading signs, adding new grass, doing extensive landscaping and better grounds maintenance, installing a wash basin for hand washing as well as rock bins, creating a new pricing structure and adding other new features.

Chapel Hill was started by Congregation B’nai Israel more than 45 years ago and was sold to a national cemetery company in 1998. It is a predominately Jewish cemetery although there are non-Jewish sections.

About 8 of its 15 acres are cleared and the rest is undeveloped.

The cemetery is located at 12905 Wild Acres Road in Largo.

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