"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."