Originally created 12/01/05

Hyde Park residents wounded by pollution's aftermath



Lined with single-dwelling family homes, some made of wood, others brick, Hyde Park is a neighborhood that always has been a self-sustaining community - looking after one another.

Located between U.S. Highway 1 and Doug Barnard Parkway, the area once had room to raise cattle and chickens, and even grow vegetables, residents said.

But due to the industrial facilities located near Hyde Park, the community learned 19 years ago the groundwater was contaminated with chemicals. Because of the groundwater contamination, residents are no longer able to have gardens.

"It would cause a lot of problems, including circulatory and respiratory problems, cancer and birth defects," said the Rev. Charles Utley, of McElmurray Spring Baptist Church.

Melissa Checkers, a former resident of Hyde Park and student at New York University, wrote a dissertation that eventually became a book called Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town. The study resulted in the neighborhood getting paved streets and running water, the Rev. Utley said.

"We lost a lot of self-esteem," the Rev. Utley said. "We used to hold the best-yard competition. Now its sort of dried up.

"I grew up here and spent all my youth and early adult life here," he said. "Everyone knew each other and we'd all take care of each other."

Hyde Park has many playgrounds, baseball fields, basketball courts and a little park, the minister said. Community centers, such as the Mary Utley Community Center, provides a Big Sisters in Action program, a supportive organization with volunteers who donate time to tutor children with homework.

There is some crime associated with Hyde Park - vandalism, break-ins and some gang-related activity, but nothing too serious, the Rev. Utley said.

"Overall a community is what your make of it," the Rev. Utley said.

Reach Rebecca A. Smith at (706) 823-3552 or rebecca.smith@augustachronicle.com.