Controversy renewed over life in Hyde Park

For 52 of his 76 years, Charles Whitehead has lived a quiet life on a quiet street in a quiet subdivision called Hyde Park.

 

Four blocks wide and flanked by rail lines to the east and west, the patchwork of homes, vacant lots and abandoned buildings isn't necessarily pretty, but for Mr. Whitehead and 152 other families, it is home.

Augusta commissioners are deciding if it should stay that way, as they debate a residential relocation plan that could cost up to $20 million.

Some residents have contended for decades they are victims of toxic waste.

The defunct Goldberg Brothers junkyard, now cleaned up, once oozed lead and mercury.

A mile away, a former wood treating plant created a pollution problem that cost $46 million to clean up. Hyde Park residents sued the former Southern Wood Piedmont Co., but lost.

Today, Mr. Whitehead and at least some of his neighbors think the area is fine - and he just wants to be left alone.

"I like it here," Mr. Whitehead said. "I don't see any reason to leave."

This year, the debate over whether to evacuate the residents over concerns for their health has been rekindled - and so has the controversy. Cost estimates range from $5 million to $20 million to move everyone away.

Residents who don't want to leave have formed a group called Hyde Park Pride and enlisted environmental attorney Robert Mullins to help them.

"The residents who want to stay deserve to stay," he said. "They've been through hell, and they're entitled to keep their homes."

On the other end of the debate is the Augusta Brownfields Commission. Armed with a new study that found elevated levels of lead in soil samples, the group is seeking funds from Augusta and the Georgia General Assembly to commence with relocation.

Mr. Mullins cited past studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia's Environmental Protection Division that found no basis for evacuation.

He is not yet involved in any litigation.

"But if the city decides to condemn property out there, we could get involved at that point," Mr. Mullins said. "They would have to demonstrate a very good reason if they want to take someone's property."

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

$10 million: Amount already spent to clean up the Goldberg Brothers junkyard - the suspected source of contamination in Hyde Park.

$5 million-$20 million: Estimated range for cleanup of Hyde Park and relocation of all residents.

$279,550: Cost to Augusta taxpayers to initiate a relocation plan to study how to move residents. Commissioners have not yet responded.

500: Approximate number of residents in area targeted for relocation.

$400,000: Amount of two federal grants used to evaluate cleanup options at the junkyard and to test soil in Hyde Park.

50,800: Number of tons of tires, metal, debris and contaminated soil removed from the junkyard.

332: Parcels of property in Hyde Park, including 179 lots that are vacant or have empty houses and 153 lots with occupied homes.

197: Number of residents involved in unsuccessful lawsuit against Southern Wood Piedmont, a wood treating company accused of polluting Hyde Park.

$46 million: Approximate cost borne by Southern Wood Piedmont for cleanup, mitigation and monitoring of its former wood treating site on Nixon Road.

718: The contamination is not a new issue; number of news stories involving Hyde Park published by The Augusta Chronicle since 1986.

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 took 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 were later dismissed in Southern Wood's favor.

1993: A detailed EPA study found elevated lead levels in ditches flowing from Goldberg Brothers into residential areas in nearby Hyde Park but found no evidence of wood-treating chemicals from another toxic waste site - 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, contended any problems in Hyde Park were linked to Southern Wood Piedmont, not his junkyard. The junkyard also built an earthen berm designed to keep stormwater from flowing into nearby Hyde Park.

1995: The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded that lead and other chemicals were not a health hazard to Hyde Park residents unless they ate the dirt on a daily basis 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 concluded there was 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 was 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.

- Rob Pavey, staff writer

Topics: