Lawmaker initiates Hyde Park study

File/Staff
Tarver

ATLANTA - Because estimates vary widely on how much it would cost to move residents out of Hyde Park and Aragon Park where soil contamination has been found, an Augusta senator thinks being better informed about the problem is the best way to lobby for state funding.

Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, has filed legislation creating a study committee that will look at any potential health risks associated with contaminants from a former scrapyard.

He said because he has not seen a set amount for how much it would cost to compensate homeowners to move - an offer residents have been requesting for years - it is difficult to ask for state money this year.

His measure, Senate Resolution 132, now will face the Senate Natural Resources and Environment committee. It will take time for the Senate and House to both approve the resolution and for legislative leaders to pick committee members.

Mr. Tarver said he wrote the legislation so that it could include the full legislative delegation for Richmond County. One House member and one senator would serve as co-chairman.

A state environmental official told members of the legislative delegation Wednesday that a recent report found concentrations of lead in soil samples but not enough to qualify for a mass relocation. Federal officials are reviewing the same report to make their own determination.

Mr. Tarver said the current state budget drafts do not include money for relocating the residents and that getting all the facts would help make that case to budget planners.

Any study committee findings likely could not be presented until next year's legislative session.

"I know we want to move quickly," Mr. Tarver said. "But until we get some information that we can rely upon to present in support of funding for relocation, I think we're going to have to do what's necessary to make our case to find funding for this program."

Charles Utley, the chairman of the Augusta Mayor's Brownfield Commission, said he is fine with waiting if it means the state might look closer at the relocation request.

"We're trying to get all the wheels in motion because we haven't identified where the funds have to come from," he said. "We're willing to go through the process."

Meanwhile, neighborhood residents plan to look into other potential sources of funding, including federal grants, Mr. Utley said.

But he added that state and local funding commitments also are going to be crucial.

"A lot of federal agencies are going to ask what are (state and local governments) going to do," he said. "We need to start in Augusta and spread to the state Capitol and on up to Washington."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (678) 977-4601 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.