Hyde Park residents might be relocated

Plan calls for retention pond

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Residents of Augusta's beleaguered Hyde Park community could be relocated within two years under the newest plan to transform the neighborhood into a stormwater retention pond.

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Warren Douse, 6, picks up Cristiana Baez, 5, as Charity Collins (left), 5, plays and Chastity Baez, 2, looks on in Hyde Park. Officials want to transform the area into a stormwater pond.   Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Warren Douse, 6, picks up Cristiana Baez, 5, as Charity Collins (left), 5, plays and Chastity Baez, 2, looks on in Hyde Park. Officials want to transform the area into a stormwater pond.

"If it works out, it's a huge major deal," said Charles Utley, a veteran neighborhood activist and owner of four Hyde Park properties. "We've been talking about this for 20 to 30 years."

Four blocks wide and flanked by rail lines to the east and west, the patchwork of homes, vacant lots and abandoned buildings has been the focus of lawsuits and environmental studies linked to claims the area was contaminated with lead and other toxic materials. Flooding in low-lying areas has been a perennial problem.

Although millions of dollars in federal and state health assessments failed to document threats severe enough to warrant mass evacuation, a $10 million cleanup was conducted at the nearby Goldberg junkyard -- the suspected source of lead and other materials found in soil samples from the neighborhood.

Augusta Commissioner Corey Johnson, whose District 2 encompasses the area, said engineers have drawn up a plan to raze the entire neighborhood to make way for a stormwater control project that would -- in addition to relocating the residents -- offer better flood protection for other neighborhoods nearby.

"It would be part of the Wilkinson Gardens stormwater project and would benefit the whole Oliver Road corridor, everything within a few-mile radius of Hyde Park," he said.

The plan -- costing about $17 million, including the relocation effort and the stormwater improvements -- will go before the Augusta Commission's Engineering Services Committee next week, Johnson said.

If approved, the plan would advance to the full commission.

Although city approval is needed to pursue the project, that approval would not guarantee funding, he said. Rather, it would set in motion efforts to secure a combination of loans and grants from local and federal sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"What we're looking for is a notice to proceed," he said. "The engineers who have worked on this are pretty positive it would work. We do qualify, and we do meet the criteria. We just have to move rapidly on it."

Utley said the project would require acquisition and clearing of 186 to as many as 212 separate parcels, including 112 occupied dwellings.

"The retention pond would not actually use the whole neighborhood, but the whole neighborhood would have to be relocated," he said.

Elements of the plan, he said, would include assistance to residents -- both renters and owners who occupy the houses -- in accordance with federal rules governing relocations.

"The houses out there are mostly owner-occupied," he said. "I think that would be 70 to 80 of the houses."

If the plan is successful, it would be a long-awaited outcome for a neighborhood that has been the focus of turmoil for almost a quarter of a century.

"I hope it's the final chapter in the story of Hyde Park," Utley said. "It's been going on a long, long time."

Hyde Park: a timeline

- 1960s: Developers gradually carve more than 300 rectangular lots for development in a flat, swampy area drained by bisecting ditches and flanked to the east and west by parallel rail lines. Families who build homes there are mostly blacks who work at nearby factories.

- 1986: A mile away, company officials close down the aging Southern Wood Piedmont wood treatment plant, where chemicals leaking into the soil for decades have poisoned groundwater and nearby soil. The subsequent cleanup will take decades and cost $46 million.

- 1991: Hyde Park residents launch the first of several lawsuits contending Southern Wood Piedmont polluted their neighborhood. Evidence, however, indicates groundwater flows in an opposite direction and the company denies all allegations. The lawsuits eventually will be dismissed in Southern Wood's favor.

- 1993: A detailed EPA study finds elevated lead levels in ditches flowing from Goldberg Brothers into residential areas in nearby Hyde Park but finds no evidence of wood-treating chemicals from Southern Wood Piedmont Co. in the neighborhood. Recommendations included placement of warning signs near drainage ditches.

- 1994: Phillip Goldberg, the president of the adjacent junkyard, contends any problems in Hyde Park are linked to Southern Wood Piedmont, not his junkyard. The junkyard also builds an earthen berm designed to keep stormwater from flowing into nearby Hyde Park.

- 1994: Gov. Zell Miller appoints a task force to oversee millions of dollars in health and environmental studies of the area.

- 1995: The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concludes that lead and other chemicals are not a health hazard to Hyde Park residents unless they ate the dirt daily for many years.

- 1998: After re-examining health studies at the request of politicians and residents, the agency reiterated its 1995 conclusions, saying again that the defunct wood-treating plant "is not a health hazard to surrounding neighborhoods."

- 1998: The EPA concludes there is enough lead in soil in one yard -- Hattie Elam's home on Walnut Street -- to warrant a $100,000 cleanup. The source of the lead is presumed to be the Goldberg junkyard, which declared bankruptcy after being ordered to clean up the area.

- 1999: A $200,000 Brownfields grant is earmarked for conducting environmental assessments.

- 2000: After consultants find huge volumes of surface pollution at the Goldberg site, city of Augusta officials ask Georgia's Environmental Protection Division for cleanup assistance.

- 2001: Georgia agrees to finance cleanup activities through the state Superfund account used to remediate toxic sites for which no responsible party can be charged.

- 2004: After a $10 million cleanup, the 10.8-acre Goldberg site is deemed safe for redevelopment.

- 2006: Augusta's Brownfields Commission re-introduces its desire to develop a complete relocation plan for all Hyde Park residents.

- 2007: Some residents tell Georgia's Environmental Protection Division the area is so damaged by toxic chemicals that a mass evacuation is warranted, but a rival group that included activist Woody Merry contends the blight is the result of neglect, not contamination.

- 2009: Augusta commissioners launch an effort to transform the neighborhood into a massive stormwater detention facility, which will require relocation of all residents and demolition of all homes.

What's next

A plan to transform the area into a storm-water retention pond will go before the Augusta Commission's engineering services committee next week.

Comments (11) Add comment
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Junket831
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Junket831 06/01/10 - 11:04 pm
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I hope this solution works.

I hope this solution works. The value of the properties should not exceed the assessed value of those properties. Anyone who is deliquent in paying taxes should receive half the value or nothing.

In terms of moving folks out of Hyde Park, this should be relatively easy in terms of logistics. The County could supply trucks, churchs and civic organizations can provide labor to help these individuals out. The difficult part will be getting the residents of the neighborhood to accept a different neighborhood and housing.

jb1234
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jb1234 06/01/10 - 11:36 pm
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When the idea of relocating

When the idea of relocating the residents was first introduced a few years ago, I seem to remember many of the residents telling News12 in an interview something along the lines of "I don't want to move". So they want to complain and sue about the problems in their neighborhood, but then when a helping hand is extended to them, they won't take it, we'll just see how successful this plan is.

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 06/02/10 - 04:29 am
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Why are people who are

Why are people who are renting going to also "benefit" from relocation assistance? Renters are not owners and don't have a bonafide financial stake in the property...that's why they rent. I've got no problem with property owners receiving help to move, but renters should be on their own. This is a good example of government assistance enabling the "what's in it for me?" mindset of these citizens.

disssman
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disssman 06/02/10 - 07:48 am
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no problem with the moving of

no problem with the moving of people, here in woodlake we have a bunch of section 8 already and it is turning into a little Cherry crossing anyway. From the picture provided (plenty of junk cars sitting in the background) these folks will fit right in. But the plan does pose a question. If we are shutting it down because of pollution so we can build a storm pond, where will the overflow of the pond go? I just hope everyone plays true to form and votes for a SPLOST to pay off the landlords whose expensive property is in question.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/02/10 - 07:50 am
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Commissioner Jimmy Smith has

Commissioner Jimmy Smith has been belly-aching for years about how shameful that the owner of the Regency Mall property doesn't do what Jimmy wants him to do with the property.

But look at this item from the article above:

- 2004: After a $10 million cleanup, the 10.8-acre Goldberg site is deemed safe for redevelopment.

Jimmy might better have spent his "disappointment" tantrums on promoting this Goldberg property as a development site.

Austin Rhodes
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Austin Rhodes 06/02/10 - 11:58 am
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Pardon me here gang...but we

Pardon me here gang...but we seem to have a neighborhood SO polluted that TAXPAYERS are being asked to move residents out...and the residents themselves are SO CONCERNED about the contamination that they allow their children to PLAY IN DRAINAGE DITCHES. Brilliant. I live in a CLEAN neighborhood and I wouldn't let my kids do that...

alfrrst4
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alfrrst4 06/02/10 - 04:13 pm
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Is it my thinking, or after

Is it my thinking, or after 56 million dollars of clean up efforts and numerous failed efforts by Mr. Utley to get the government to make restitution to the families who's love one were directly affected by this toxic waste ground, that finally the government wants to buy this property and move everyone out of there. If this is true, iam curious how much money are we talking about for the property and relocation. Mr. Utley, dont let them people take no wooden nickles. They could have gave them folks at least 15 million of those dollars years ago and got them out of there, hell they didnt know that the plants were polluting the grounds a decade ago. Cory Johnson, dont let them sell your folks out. You are all as black folks my say, a banana peel away from being back in the Ghetto.

duanejr
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duanejr 06/02/10 - 10:20 pm
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The article states of signs

The article states of signs warning of the poluution and contaminates and not playing in the ditches. So why are the parents of the children in the picture allowing them to play in the ditches? Seems like a lack of good parenting to me. Just what we all want in our neighborhoods, more troublemakers.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 06/03/10 - 08:39 am
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Landlord Charles Utley

Landlord Charles Utley said:

"If it works out, it's a huge major deal," said Charles Utley, a veteran neighborhood activist and owner of four Hyde Park properties. "We've been talking about this for 20 to 30 years."

Yeah, it's a major deal to Utley all right. He has made profits for decades, and now he will get government money to buy his properties because it is too dangerous for his tenants to live there anymore.

Our city government leaders should be ashamed to seek this taxpayer bailout for an old neighborhood.

And I agree with Just My Opinion above. The tenants have no financial stake in the property. They don't deserve a "relocation" allowance. What would be the difference in a renter who lived in a house that burned down? That renter would not get "relocation" allowance from the government to move.

wlightnin42
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wlightnin42 06/03/10 - 03:49 pm
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Condemn the property and let

Condemn the property and let them find their own place. Most of them have been sitting there for years waiting on the government and taxpayers to buy them a new home. The land owers know they will be getting free money because the land they own isn't worth the sludge in the ground.

corgimom
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corgimom 06/04/10 - 06:43 pm
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This is 30 years overdue.

This is 30 years overdue. Relocation won't take away the chemical poisoning of their bodies.

They deserve a relocation allowance because the City of Augusta was criminally negligent for allowing houses being built there in the first place. And just as the City has relocated people whose homes were built in known flood plains, they have a responsibility to fix this.

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