Let science be our guide

  • Follow Editorials

Hyde Park in London is famous for its soap box speeches.

Hyde Park in Augusta was the focus of its own soap box speeches this week, as 10 of the area's residents and their supporters angrily claimed at a news conference that the city is about to force them out of their homes to avoid a hazard that isn't there.

Well, that's not quite true. Neither Mayor Deke Copenhaver nor city Administrator Fred Russell is convinced a mass relocation of the 500-some residents is called for.

Even after a $10 million cleanup at the site of the old Goldberg junkyard, there are from three to five "hot spots" of contamination, various sources say - though the last engineer to study the area's soil and groundwater, Tom Clark, has said "I think the whole area is affected."

Likewise, Frank Rumph - who led a governor's task force on the matter in 1994 - said recently that, "My opinion, after 13 years, thousands of hours and millions of dollars on tests, is that this community should have been relocated."

The residents who held a press conference Tuesday with citizen activist Woody Merry and environmental lawyer Robert Mullins disagree vehemently - saying they think it's perfectly safe to stay in houses and neighborhoods many of them have lived in for decades.

They don't think the danger is toxic chemicals such as lead and arsenic; they think it's city officials who, while well-intentioned, might uproot them unnecessarily, and not compensate them well enough to furnish them with a mortgage-free house elsewhere.

And they also question whether there is some land speculation and potential profiteering going on: They point to parcels being strangely bought up in the questioned area, possibly in anticipation of the city paying a premium for the land as part of a relocation project.

At the same time, other Hyde Park residents have worried for years, and for good reason: Studies have shown contamination in the area from now-defunct Southern Wood Piedmont and Goldberg junkyard operations.

Yet, there's no consensus on the need for a relocation.

"Millions of dollars have been spent to study the situation, and none of the studies have recommended a clear course of action," says Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

Besides possible contaminants, the city must also avoid any perception that Hyde Park residents aren't being relocated because they're not rich enough or white enough to warrant the trouble and expense. That's a very real concern.

So is the soap box, and well-meaning folks on both sides of the issue risk demagoguing it.

One suggestion: Cool the tempers and cut out the race-baiting, and let science be our guide.

Russell says the ball is in the court of state and federal environmental officials, who are digesting and interpreting the latest study.

"Tell me if we've got a problem or not," the city administrator says of the experts. "Until then, I'm not too sure."

We know this much: No one in this community, not anyone of any socio-economic or racial background, should have to live amidst contamination.

But neither should they be forced to leave unless the science is clear.

Comments (3) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
hr69 02/08/07 - 09:19 am
if the powers to be determine

if the powers to be determine without a doubt that the residents need to be moved then they should be moved. But they should not be compensated for more than the property value if they are landlords. Homeowners actually living in their homes in Hyde Park SHOULD be relocated to something comparable and should not have a mortage if they don't have one now. But here is the key to making the residents feel like they are not being taken advantage of.... put a 50 or 100 year lockdown on the property. Nothing more than clean up can be done during that period. If the government funds the relocation, then the government will own the property and can do with it what it sees fit, but not until the 50 or 100 year time has passed. If the land is truly contaminated, then it should be left idle.

concernednative 02/08/07 - 09:59 am
I don't think the govermnent

I don't think the govermnent wants the land. It is not prime land with its questionable safety and location. They are doing what responsible government does gathering info and looking out for the safety of the people. The people there are older and lower income. They are simply scared and as we know older people don't want a lot of change. My suggestion is move the people that want to move and have the remainders sign away there rights to sue in the future if they choose to stay.

ForHim 02/08/07 - 01:35 pm
HR69 has a really good

HR69 has a really good suggestion about the government not being able to use the land for a long period of time. But I think that the residents should get reasonably conpensatied for their property based on the property value. The government could make it easier for them to relocate by helping with low interest loans to purchase another home. Hopefully these residents will take it upon themselves to read the environmental impact studies and not let someone else, whether it is an activist or lawyer, sway their decision on whether to move or stay. They have been warned of the possible dangers. It is up to them to get informed and make a decision.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs