Residents of Hyde Park remain “trapped”

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Residents of Hyde Park remain “trapped”

About two years ago, the Augusta Commission approved a $475,00 plan to relocate residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood.

While the city plans to eventually construct a retention pond on the neighborhood’s current site, the relocation of these residents have been decades in the making.

And Rev. Charles Utley, a long-time Hyde Park resident and community activist in the community, has had enough.

For more than 30 years, the people living in Hyde Park have voiced their concerns that the community they are living in is contaminated.

Hyde Park is a small neighborhood situated next to Gordon Highway that is located in the middle of an industrial park.

For years, the former Goldberg Brothers scrap yard was in the neighborhood’s backyard.

But even though the Goldberg property is included on Georgia’s Hazardous Site Inventory list as being contaminated with toxic material, including lead, PCBs, arsenic and mercury, for years no one did anything to help clean up the community.

It wasn’t until June 1999 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected Augusta’s Goldberg site for a $200,000 grant to assess what the federal government calls a “brownfield.”

A brownfield is a site that has actual or perceived contamination with the potential for environmental cleanup and redevelopment.

After Hyde Park was selected for the grant, then-Augusta Mayor Bob Young established the Augusta Brownfields Commission, which is a group of concerned residents and local professionals determined to clean up the Hyde Park area.

By 2006, the Augusta Brownfields Commission went before the commission calling for all of the residents to be relocated.

It wasn’t until September of 2012 that the ball started rolling and the city’s Housing and Community Development Department began its first of three phases to relocate residents.

But two years later, there are still residents living in Hyde Park.

This week, Rev. Utley of The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League sent a letter to Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver demanding that the remaining residents in Hyde Park be relocated to protect their “health and safety.”

“As you know, in 1969 the Richmond County Health Department advised residents of Hyde Park that their community was unsafe, contaminated by industrial pollution,” Utley wrote in his Sept. 3 letter to the mayor. “Residents were warned by health officials that their well water was unsafe to drink and that food grown in their gardens was unsafe to eat. They were warned to wear gloves, long sleeve shirts and long pants when doing yard work. They were warned that it was unsafe for children to play outside.”

The health department told residents that these precautions were necessary because industrial pollution had polluted the air, water and soil to such an extent that “the community was unlivable,” Utley stated.

Due to the hard work by the residents of the community and the Augusta Brownfields Commission, Utley wrote that the relocation of all households in the community was finally approved by the city.

“However, today only half of the 130 families have been moved to safety,” Utley wrote. “Those left behind are living next to the abandoned, demolished and vandalized houses of those who have been moved to safety. Demolition waste is piled high along the roadside. For those left behind, the situation is unfair, dangerous and intolerable; it simply cannot be allowed to continue.”

Utley insists that the city’s contaminated and blighted areas are an “untapped resource” that could be used to ease the city’s “financial crunch” by providing jobs and economic growth to Augusta.

“However, today the project is stalled,” Utley stated. “Mayor Copenhaver, the residents Hyde Park seek only justice and fulfillment of promises made. We are appealing to you to use the power of your office to protect public health and safety.

“We started this project, let’s finish it.”