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Hyde Park residents still waiting to be moved

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Told not to move or make any repairs, some of Augusta’s Hyde Park residents are growing impatient six months after their relocation was put on hold while the process was put out for bids.

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Joe-Anne Jones had already agreed on a place to be relocated in March when the city's relocation plans for Hyde Park residents came yet again to a standstill.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Joe-Anne Jones had already agreed on a place to be relocated in March when the city's relocation plans for Hyde Park residents came yet again to a standstill.

Heavy rains in August exacerbated the issue for which the residents are to be moved, to create a 44-acre regional detention pond to alleviate flooding, and lifelong resident Joe-Anne Jones said she is now seeing sunlight through the roof of the family home she and her brother kept in good repair until recent, broken promises.

Informed in February that funds were available to move residents under federal relocation guidelines, Jones said she was interviewed by city staff for 15 minutes on March 14, then located a house on Dover Street where she and another Hyde Park resident could continue to be neighbors.

“It was going to be a swap,” Jones said, an even trade of her house under the federal guidelines for the Dover house, built by Augusta Housing and Community Development.

A day after she turned in her application, however, Jones learned that the entire process was on hold in an effort to justify the hiring of three personnel to assist with the relocation.

“The director of housing caused it to be at a standstill,” Jones said. “He wanted to know who was going to pay the additional workers.”

It was then that Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler’s hiring of three people to work up to 60 hours a week, as well as the designation of half of another’s salary, all paid from a $4.5 million sales-tax allocation for the project, came into question.

Wheeler made the hires, estimating the cost to complete the relocations at $438,700, without seeking city approval, and the commission voted March 20 to see whether a private company could do it for less.

The three qualified bidders who responded to the city procurement office’s request for proposals could not, and all quoted prices above what Wheeler estimated.

“As a taxpayer I have a question with that, too,” said Jones, a longtime Richmond County Board of Education bus driver and data clerk. “If the average person’s interview only took about 15 minutes, how are you going to say it’s justifiable to hire someone and say they need to be out there eight hours a day, five days a week when there’s only 129 residents out here?”

Wheeler did not respond to calls seeking comment, but Engineering Director Abie Ladson said the higher costs likely stem from the need to hire personnel versed in the federal relocation guidelines. “They should be federally certified,” Ladson said.

Despite the commission’s March vote to seek competitive bids for the relocation project, at least one commissioner, Corey Johnson, questioned why new employees were necessary, although he hoped the commission would at least agree to allow Wheeler’s department to complete the job. The choice of a path forward is on Tuesday’s commission meeting agenda.

“If we can’t seem to get the support to do it, we’ll probably look at giving Chester the orders to make it work,” said Johnson, whose district includes Hyde Park, a neighborhood where his grandmother lived.

“With the amount of people who are there now – the last I heard, it was 65 to 70, including renters, it’s probably not going to take much.”

The number has dwindled partly because of the deaths of several elderly residents.

“It’s tough because you hear they’re going to wait until everybody dies to get out of there,” Johnson said.

Not everyone in Hyde Park wants to move. Several of the area’s elderly residents, encouraged by activist Woody Merry, have resisted the plan. Merry has presented an alternative proposal using donated land to improve drainage without forcing residents out. Residents agree, however, that they are tired of the unfulfilled promises that date back to the 1990s, when elevated levels of contaminants were found in Hyde Park soil.

“I think I’m going to crank CSRA Help back up, I’m so ticked,” Merry said Friday of his former government reform group.

While about $4.5 million is designated to start the project, there is not funding to complete the $18 million pond project. That concerns other commissioners.

Johnson said he hoped the next special-purpose, local-option sales tax, scheduled for voter approval in two years, could be used, in addition to funds from a new stormwater fee commissioners are to consider at an upcoming session, or a low-interest state loan for infrastructure projects.

“I think there will be some ways to find funding,” he said.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said that it was he who suggested bidding out the relocation process.

“I thought a contractor could do it cheaper,” Brigham said. “I guess they proved me wrong.”

Brigham said his biggest concern is that insufficient funding exists to complete the buyout of residents’ properties, estimated at $8 million, and design and construction of the pond, estimated at $10.2 million.

“I don’t think we’ve got the money to do it,” Brigham said, adding that residents throughout the city are seeking government buyouts of their flooded property.

City Administrator Fred Russell said it wasn’t uncommon for a project to be started without designated funding to complete it. But even if funding is slow to arrive, the entire project “has to happen at some point,” Russell said.

HYDE PARK TIMELINE

1990: Residents file a $700 million lawsuit alleging chemicals used by nearby manufacturer Southern Wood Piedmont contaminated the area.

1993: The Environmental Protection Agency study finds no conclusive link between Southern Wood Piedmont and ill health among Hyde Park residents; elevated lead levels are traced to nearby Goldberg junkyard.

1995: September flooding overflows Hyde Park ditches; water levels reach an inch in some homes.

1998: Federal judge dismisses suit against Southern Wood Piedmont; EPA concludes lead levels in one Walnut Street yard warrant $100,000 cleanup.

2006: Augusta Brownfields Commission reintroduces desire to relocate all Hyde Park residents.

2008: Augusta commissioners refund 2007 and 2008 property taxes to Hyde Park property owners and vote to spend $2.5 million on infrastructure and soil removal.

2009: Hyde Park area appears on new floodplain maps.

2010: Commissioner Corey Johnson introduces $17 million plan to relocate residents and create a detention pond; commission refuses to apply for $10 million loan to fund project.

2011: Commissioners reprogram $2.33 million in additional sales tax funds for Hyde Park pond project.

FEBRUARY 2012: Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler tells residents about plan to relocate them under federal guidelines.

MARCH: Commissioners reject Wheeler’s hire of three employees for the relocation project, which is instead put out for bids.

JULY: Republican primary voters reject relocating Hyde Park residents by nearly 3 to 1 in nonbinding straw poll.

SEPTEMBER: Bids to relocate residents come in higher than Wheeler’s estimate.

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Little Lamb
45870
Points
Little Lamb 09/15/12 - 04:18 pm
0
0
Repairs

Well, complying with Fred (What, me worry?) Russell's order not to make repairs will be the easiest city ordinance to comply with for these folks.

TrulyWorried
14115
Points
TrulyWorried 09/15/12 - 05:24 pm
1
0
Hyde Park

And I believe that it has reached a point where this should not be delayed one more second - these people have been jerked around since March - the commission, as usual, cannot make up its mind, or is it some other governmental agency that is responsible for this debacle? Get these people out of Hyde Park - NOW!!! If it were to concern some higher upper class and rich folks, I bet it would not take a minute to make a decision and get the whole thing moving,
I think it is utterly disgusting that government cannot make arrangements - SHOULD have made arrangement six months ago to have this settled, once and for all. There are no more pressing problems than this hardship for all those folks. Augusta - CSRA government - just for ONCE show you have brain and determination to handle a matter right then and there - NOT when all is debated a dozen times over. I am truly sick of these so called officials that can't put their power to work where it is in dire need. GET A MOVE ON and make it happen - NOW - before the weather gets cold and nasty. Borrow the money if you have to - use the 25,000 that disappeared and nobody ever found - stop some pet project and get on with this more than pressing matter. Maybe we should organize a party of all these poor folks sitting in Hyde Park and assemble them before the ritzy new Court house - calling attention to their plight. Unbelievable and utterly disgusting!!! Remember November 6, 2012!!!

JRC2024
8854
Points
JRC2024 09/15/12 - 10:42 pm
1
0
TRuley Woried, who is going

TRuley Woried, who is going to pay for their new homes. The overtaxed taxpayer and I bet the investors who bought homes in there think they should be paid also. What about the relatives that still own property where the original home owner has died. They probably think the city should pay them top dollar for their property. The contamination was done by a private company. Look to them and their insurance company but I bet they went bankrupt. Too sad for the people who live there. Such a mess.

TrulyWorried
14115
Points
TrulyWorried 09/16/12 - 12:18 pm
1
0
Hyde Park

JRC - I am in agreement with what you are saying - but why did they tell the people to pack up so they could move? It made me think it was all thought out and well taken care of. Apparently not. No - don't pay some property owner that inherited. And yes, where is the private company that caused all this? Long gone I assume.

catawba7
319
Points
catawba7 09/16/12 - 02:45 pm
3
0
DON'T RELOCATE, CLEAN UP!

The city of Augusta should not have people packing up their homes and preparing to move if they don't have the money to compensate landowners and renters, move landowners and renters and build the pond. The Hyde Park land was found not to contain contamination, (but is that true)? We can only go by the tests. A proposal on the table to use donated land for a retention pond should be seriously considered. The city does not have the money to relocate nearly 120 familes whch consist of landowners, renters and people still living in their homes. Hyde Park residents were told in a previous meeting to make repairs on their homes as needed for them to be liveable, however, some sit in homes needing repairs, just waiting on the government. What about the flooding being caused by trash in ditches, drive out there and just look in the ditches, you will see all types of trash from home garbage to furniture items. Land is overgrown where grass and lots are not maintained because they sit and wait on th governmet. The city of Augusta did not own the old Goldberg site when contamination was first reported. Well, the federal government cleaned up the Goldberg site so use that site for a retention pond, it is certainly big enough or maybe it really is still contaminated. In 2010 there were 122 people for relocation, now it is down to 60-70, why not help those citizens clean up and renovate their properties at low interest loans and save their homes instead of having a 44 acre pond sitting on prime land. There is something very fishy about all of this. Somebody needs to really investigate this whole mess. Use the donated land for the pond, help the residents renovate to make their homes liveable before more die or is that the real issue? Mr. Brigham is correct, where will the city get the money to move these people, I am TAXED to death as it is, and now I heard talk of a $65.00 a year sewer fee and now maybe another splost penny. Pretty soon you will go to the store to get a stick of gum and hand them a dollar and they will want another dollar for splost, enough is enough.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 09/17/12 - 06:42 am
0
0
Does anyone remember how long it took
Unpublished

to relocate the residents from Nellyville of Old Savannah Rd? What was done at that time? That county public housing was built on one of the many old land fills. Methane gas seeped through the foundations cracked by severe settling. Uninhabitable. Mid 1980's ????

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