Hyde Park cleanup, 204 Augusta Utilities raises get committee approval

A plan to alleviate flooding that doubles as a fix for contamination concerns at Augusta’s Hyde Park neighborhood got the go-ahead from an Augusta Commission committee Monday.

It couldn’t come soon enough for Charles Utley, a longtime Hyde Park activist, property owner and former neighborhood association president.

“I’m glad to hear that someone is now stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for something that’s past due,” Utley said.

A committee approved a motion 4-0 to reprogram $2.33 million in sales-tax funds originally intended for road repairs in District 2 for the start of drainage improvements that will convert the neighborhood into a detention pond to alleviate flooding there and in nearby Wilkinson Gardens.

Engineering Director Abie Ladson, who developed the detention pond plan as one that would “kill two birds with one stone,” said the entire affected area, about 44 acres, did not qualify for federal brownfields funds sometimes available for cleanup of contaminated areas.

That Hyde Park was contaminated by the nearby former Goldberg Brothers junkyard, subject of a 2001 $10 million cleanup using federal funds, has long been the topic of investigations and lawsuits, although no federal or state agency has determined that the level of contamination warrants immediate evacuation of the area.

Estimating he’d pushed for a fix for three decades, Utley said relocating approximately 78 families who still live in Hyde Park would be a challenge, particularly if homeowners are repaid current market values for their property. Several homes in the area are on a current list of properties to be auctioned for unpaid taxes.

“Until I actually see it, I’m going to say it’s just another wolf call,” Utley said.

The measure was placed on Monday’s agenda by District 2 Commissioner Corey Johnson, who made Hyde Park a 2010 campaign promise. It’s expected to go before the full commission at its next regular meeting.

In another matter, 204 Augusta Utilities employees may get the raises Director Tom Wiedmeier says they’re due under a department reorganization after a commission committee gave the plan unanimous approval Monday.

Wiedmeier presented a report developed with help from compensation analyst Kenny Cook detailing a net $752,411 in annual savings from the reorganization plan. That impressed Commissioner Alvin Mason, a critic of the 44 raises awarded in July by City Administrator Fred Russell without prior commission knowledge.

“I’m not going to punish a department,” Mason said, “because we did not do right by the others.”

Commissioner Bill Lockett questioned the impact of the raises on morale in other departments, particularly among employees with jobs very similar to those in Utilities now getting raises.

Overall, Wiedmeier’s plan, developed around the time Russell was reorganizing other departments, eliminates 52 budgeted positions and shrinks the department to a staff of 315.

The raises, mostly increases associated with promotions, include six so large that they’re outside the scope Russell is empowered to give. Those raises, also approved by the committee, go to five assistant directors -- Steve Little, Allen Saxon, Jerry Delaughter, Horace Luke and Russell Thies -- and a superintendent, Debra Beazley. The committee rejected a plan to make Beazley’s increase retroactive.

 

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