Washington Cemetery’s waiting game

The 22 gravestones toppled by snow-clearing sanitation workers at a Bay Parkway cemetery may not be repaired for several months because the city takes its sweet time before shelling out money to cover damage it is responsible for.

Last week, when sanitation officials admitted their men accidentally knocked over a fence and the tombstones at Washington Cemetery, the borough’s largest Jewish cemetery, they made sure to point out that the paperwork needed to apply for a claim to pay for the damage would be supplied to cemetery officials. The paperwork has been filled out, according to cemetery manager Mike Ciamaga, but that is just the first step in what could become a long process.

“Each claim is individually investigated, so although there is no average time for a claim to be approved, it could be a matter of months,” said city spokesman Mike Loughran.

That’s bad news for loved ones of the deceased.

“It’s frustrating that nothing can be done,” Ciamaga said. “My advice to the families would just be to give it some time.”

Following the Dec. 26 blizzard, city workers packed snow and ice against a fence at the cemetery, located between McDonald Avenue and E. 57th Street, which crashed down under the snow’s weight, knocking over a line of gravestones. Resetting a single gravestone could cost more than $1,000, according to an employee with the George E. Hoare Memorial Company, who declined to give her name.

But more snow still has to be removed in order for cemetery management to determine how much damage was done, and that could slow down the process even more.

Washington Cemetery is free to move the tombstones at its own cost with the hope of being paid back once the city gets around to it, but the Ciamaga says the cemetery can’t afford to repair the damaged property.

Like all cemeteries in New York, Washington Cemetery is regulated by the state Division of Cemeteries, which has a fund to cover costs brought about by vandalism — but not mishaps perpetrated by city workers. That fund could be used to cover the 200 gravestones that were knocked down in a hate crime committed in December.

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