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Second Appeal Analysis
PA ID# N/A; Neringa, Inc.
PW ID# N/A; Request for Public Assistance
On September 1, 2011, the President declared a major disaster for Vermont as a result of Tropical Storm Irene. During the incident, flooding damaged a bridge at Camp Neringa, owned and operated by Neringa, Inc. (Applicant). Camp Neringa is a 97-acre facility located in Marlboro, Vermont that includes a lodge, cabins, chapel, and sports facilities. The bridge provides the only ingress and egress to the camp facilities. Each year, the Applicant holds six sessions of summer camp at Camp Neringa. Three of them focus on Lithuanian heritage and three on English heritage. The Applicant leases the land and all easements, appurtenances, and improvements from the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Inc.
On October 11, 2012, the FEMA Joint Field Office informed the Applicant that it was not eligible for Public Assistance because the Applicant did not meet the definition of an eligible private nonprofit (PNP) entity and that Camp Neringa did not meet the requirements of an eligible facility.
The Applicant submitted its first appeal on December 9, 2012. The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (Grantee) transmitted the appeal to FEMA on February 1, 2013. In the appeal, the Applicant asserts that it is an eligible PNP organization and provided a Section 50l(c)(3) ruling letter from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In his April 5, 2013, first appeal decision, The FEMA Region I Acting Regional Administrator (RA) acknowledged the ruling letter, but determined that although the Applicant met the definition of a PNP organization, Camp Neringa was not an eligible PNP facility because the Camp it is neither an educational facility (i.e., elementary school, secondary school, or institution of higher learning) nor a facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature. Furthermore, the RA also found that based on the documentation provided, the Applicant established Camp Neringa for primarily religious purposes and therefore cannot be considered an eligible community center.
The Applicant submitted its second appeal on June 5, 2013, and the Grantee forwarded the second appeal to the Region on July 30, 2013, along with copies of the Applicant’s PNP status and certification, the lease, bylaws, and a brochure for groups interested in renting the facility. The Grantee indicates that Camp Neringa may qualify as a community center. The Applicant states that while some of the activities that take place at Camp Neringa are “motivated by cultural principals and religious faith,” the “impacts of these activities may not be construed as inherently religious.” Further, the Applicant states that the cultural activities take place during a few select weeks, and the facility is available to the public for other uses the remainder of the year. Lastly, the Applicant asserts that the damaged bridge, which provides the only ingress and egress to the camp, is open to the public and none of the camp activities take place on the bridge.
Under the Public Assistance Program, to be an eligible applicant a PNP entity must “own or operate a private nonprofit facility.” Furthermore, the PNP must use the facility primarily for eligible services. A “private nonprofit facility” means any (1) private nonprofit educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, or custodial care facility; and (2) other private nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, libraries, homeless shelters, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature).
A “private nonprofit facility” may also be any private nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public, which can include museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities, that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature. Under FEMA Disaster Assistance Policy 9521.3, even if an organization that owns a facility is a private nonprofit organization, the facility itself must be primarily used for eligible services. Facilities primarily used for religious, athletic, recreational, or vocational purposes are not eligible under the Public Assistance Program.
Regarding Camp Neringa’s eligibility as a community center, facilities established or primarily used for religious activities are not eligible community centers under the Public Assistance Program. To determine if a community center meets eligibility criteria under the Public Assistance program, FEMA evaluates the center’s purpose, primary use, use as a gathering place, and activities. As noted in the first appeal response, Camp Neringa’s literature states that the Applicant uses Camp Neringa to offer camps to families, children, and adults to “foster respect and understanding of the Lithuanian heritage, spiritual growth in the Roman Catholic tradition, and positive character development.” While at the camp, children participate in cultural and educational activities as well as Roman Catholic liturgy, various forms of prayer, and faith discussions, all with the stated aim of providing spiritual growth. This primary purpose of spiritual growth is a fundamental and essential element of the camps and makes the sectarian activities integral and indistinguishable from the camp’s cultural and educational activities.
The Applicant’s bylaws also reinforce the religious nature of Camp Neringa, stating that the purpose of Neringa, Inc. is to “own, operate, and maintain a Center to be able to provide for a religious, educational, and cultural experience with a special focus on the Catholic tradition.” The bylaws further state that the Applicant is to “provide separate educational sessions for various age groups creating in each session an authentic Catholic and community environment employing the best educational processes to practice, foster, and impart faith and spiritual values.” Finally, the bylaws state that the “purposes shall be carried out in accord with and subject to the traditions, teaching, and law of the Roman Catholic Church.”
In order to be eligible under FEMA Disaster Assistance Policy 9521.1 Community Center Eligibility, a facility must “be primarily used as a gathering place for a variety of social, educational enrichment, and community service activities,” and more than half of the total use of the facility should support those activities. While the Applicant allows other groups to use the camp facilities during the offseason, simply making facility space available to community organizations does not make a facility a community center. The Applicant has not provided any information to demonstrate that the Applicant actively manages, oversees, or promotes community activities outside of the purposes necessary for conducting the camps. Furthermore, the Applicant has not demonstrated that the activities of those other social, educational, or community organizations comprise more than fifty percent of the total use of Camp Neringa.
In its second appeal, the Applicant did not provide any additional information that changes the conclusions reached in the first appeal. The Applicant instead focuses on the bridge that provides access to the camp facilities. While the bridge itself is not used for either secular or sectarian purposes, and although it provides the camp’s only ingress and egress, because the Applicant does not own an eligible PNP facility, it is not an eligible applicant. Therefore, it is not eligible to apply for Public Assistance funding for the repair of the bridge.
Neringa Inc. does not own a facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature. The inherent sectarian nature of the activities at Camp Neringa and the fact that those activities comprise more than fifty percent of the camp’s activities preclude eligibility of the camp’s facilities under the Public Assistance Program.