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Hyde Park cleanup, 204 Augusta Utilities raises get committee approval

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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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Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 10/11/11 - 09:41 am
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There are two wrongs up

There are two wrongs up above, and they do not make a right.

It is wrong for city taxpayers to "re-locate" residents of Hyde Park just because they want to move. This 44-acre detention pond is not needed and it is just political cover to be able to condemn these people's houses for purchase with taxpayer money.

It is wrong to be giving raises in recessionary times.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

catawba7
319
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catawba7 10/11/11 - 04:21 pm
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(Estimating he’d pushed for a

(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.)

Utley does not own all of the property in Hyde Park and it is not his place to speak for Hyde Park homeowners. If homeowners are repaid a the current market value for their homes which have been devalued to between $5000 to a little more than $30000 per home then homeowners would end up giving their property to the city. This has been the plan of the city for quite a while to 'steal' property. Corey Johnson is a disgrace and the sooner this man is out of office the better off we will all be in District 2. This is an absolute disgrace to treat homeowners this way many who are seniors. Utley does not live in Hyde Park, he will not have to relocate and find a place to stay, and it makes me sick that you are constantly using him as the go to guy for Hyde Park homeowners. Disgraceful!

Also 'littlelamb' Hyde Park homeowners do not want to move. We know we will end up in debt moving because the city will not pay us enough for the land to move. Many homeowners have been trying to get the city of Augusta to get the area cleaned for years and they have failed to do so because they want the property. If people like you would call or write your commissioners and ask them not to support this initiative we would all be better off. Corey Johnson is ambitious and wants to further his political career by aiding the city to get this land for nothing.

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 10/11/11 - 04:36 pm
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Thank you, Catawba. I will

Thank you, Catawba. I will indeed call or write my two commissioners and ask them not to support the Hyde Park retention pond and/or relocation project.

Unfortunately, I have little hope that they will listen to me. You can see how Fred (What, me worry?) Russell has miraculously come up with some "found" SPLOST money to pay for this project without impacting the city budget one bit. Don't we all know that SPLOST money is really not tax money anyway? It just materializes in the city's bank account when people go to the stores.

Anyone voting against this project will be called a racist or an oreo.

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 10/11/11 - 04:45 pm
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One thing that bothers me is

One thing that bothers me is how Utley's "big lie" gets told so much that many people begin to believe it. Susan McCord wrote:

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.

Parsing her words carefully, one can see that she has not made any technical mistake. But the sense of the sentence leads the reader to believe that there is contamination there that is conclusively tied to Goldberg Brothers junkyard. That has never been established. There has been soil testing and a few spots have shown levels of lead higher than in pristine soil. Many scientists believe the most likely culprit is the lead-based paint used on the houses and not on the junkyard. Lead does not move laterally through soil. It pretty much stays where it falls.

Even those few "hot spots" of soil with measurable lead show concentrations so low that evacuation cannot be recommended by any responsible government agency, as Ms. McCord points out.

Utley wants a bail out of his rental properties from the taxpayer. Let us not give him one.

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 10/12/11 - 11:34 am
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In an earlier article about

In an earlier article about this SPLOST transfer scam, we learned that the $2.3 million would be the tip of the iceberg:

Commissioner Corey Johnson's agenda item would fully fund design of a drainage pond project at the site that would also alleviate flooding in nearby Wilkerson Gardens, as well as initial phases of land acquisition and resident relocations.

They will likely turn this bail out of Hyde Park property owners (many of whom do not want to leave but will be forced to) into a $30 million project.

Here is the link to another article on the subject.

And here is another link.

Little Lamb
46021
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Little Lamb 10/12/11 - 01:11 pm
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A quick glance at the

A quick glance at the property tax cards for some random Hyde Park homes shows the tax assessor is setting the valuations of the properties with homes on them at between $5,000 and $15,000. The minutes that Catawba posted in the Rants & Raves showed the city is budgeting about $8 million to buy out Hyde Park property owners and re-locate the Hyde Park residents. That seems awfully generous.

That's $8 million the city does not have for a project the city does not need.

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