Originally created 09/09/06

Stalled road leads to ruin



It's a far cry from Jamaica and some say it's not very characteristic of Columbia County, either.

On Jamaica Court, a road that branches out from Old Evans Road in Evans, overgrown weeds seem to have moved in as the majority resident in a neighborhood where many houses are abandoned, several with doors open and government signs warning of asbestos and prosecution of trespassers.

The scene is one of a near-ghost neighborhood - one of at least two areas that now serve as a precursor for a looming River Watch Parkway extension, which isn't slated for construction funding until 2010.

In the wait for the road work to begin, Kim Saitow, among a few people still living on Jamaica Court and whose home won't be acquired in the extension, has concerns about her surroundings.

"This is really a bad area. I get tired of looking at the mess," she said, peering out her front door across the street to a desolate house that she says sometimes becomes a shelter for vagrants.

More than a year ago, the Jamaica Court neighborhood was in similar shape. However, Mrs. Saitow says that as recently as two weeks ago workers began gutting some of the vacant houses and posting signs warning of asbestos and that trespassers on government property would be prosecuted.

"I'm sitting out in the back and front (of my yard) and wondering if I'm breathing in asbestos,'' she said. "I've never seen anything like this.''

Then there are the few abandoned houses that front Old Petersburg Road at the corner of McCormick Street, just a short drive away from Jamaica Court.

On a recent Wednesday, government-owned houses on Old Petersburg had overgrown weeds in the yard, broken windows and unsecured doors.

Neighbors in the area said they often see juveniles visiting the abandoned houses and that it also is a safety concern for them.

Georgia Department of Transportation district spokeswoman Cissy McNure said demolition is scheduled to begin on 20 of the houses in the project area later this month and contractors have 45 days to complete the work.

George Brewer, a district pre-construction engineer for the Georgia DOT, said the typical protocol is for houses to be purchased and demolished soon after.

"They do like to go ahead and have the demolition contract and take them down because of the issues ... with vandalism,'' he said.

Mr. Brewer said the DOT currently has the necessary funding for the remainder of right-of-way acquisition for the River Watch extension, which will extend it from Baston Road to Washington Road at Towne Centre Drive by way of Old Petersburg and Old Evans roads.

Construction funding, however, he said, is set to begin in 2010.

"We've had some delays with the plans trying to work out some utility issues, but I think we've got that resolved and we're just moving forward with acquisition now,'' Mr. Brewer said.

In an April 2000 public meeting on the project, the original start of construction date was set for sometime in 2004.

Ultimately, Mr. Brewer said the 2-mile project could take about two years to construct once started. The project has previously been estimated at a cost of $33 million.

Mr. Brewer said the project ultimately will involve the purchase of 300 parcels, adding that so far 65 deeds have been bought.

"If we have them all purchased by 2010 when we've got the construction money budgeted, I think that would be a good goal for us,'' Mr. Brewer said.

So far, Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said police have responded to some miscellaneous calls in the areas of abandoned houses in Jamaica Court and off Old Petersburg, "but nothing out of the ordinary. Also, we don't have any reports of property vandalized or unauthorized entries,'' he stated in an e-mail.

Despite the lack of reports, Mrs. Saitow said the abandoned houses are enough to keep her on watch, adding "I am worried.''

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS


About the River Watch Parkway extension:


$33 million: Cost of construction


300: Number of parcels involved


65: Number of deeds purchased by the state so far


2010: Year funding is now scheduled for construction of the extension