Williams: Hyde Park residents need to be relocated faster

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About this time last year, the Augusta Commission approved a $475,00 plan to relocate residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood.
The city plans to eventually construct a retention pond on the neighborhood’s current site.
But the relocation of these residents has been decades in the making.
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 last year that the ball started rolling and the city’s Housing and Community Development Department began its first of three phases to relocate residents.
For Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams, these residents have been waiting too long to move out of what he believes to be an unhealthy environment.
“The people who are in Hyde Park, especially the residents in there, they are elderly. Very elderly people,” Williams insisted. “Many people are still saying they haven’t been approached by anyone (from the city about relocating). They are still having to wait all this time and nothing has been done.”
Hattie Hogan, program planning manager for the department, said the city has recognized 30 homeowners who are eligible for relocation in the first phase. Of those 30 individuals, eight have already closed on new properties, nine are dealing with legal matters and have pending closings, seven are in the process of looking at new homes and six still have appraisals to be processed.
There was an additional 17 residents in the first phase who were renting, but all of those individuals are no longer living in the area, Hogan said.
“We are getting ready for phase two,” Hogan said, adding that 80 properties are involved in that phase. “About 60 of those are homeowners, so we are getting ready to start our review process next month.”
She insisted that the city’s housing department is working “diligently” to get the residents out of the neighborhood.
“We have only been working on it one year,” Hogan said, reminding Williams that prior to his return to the commission earlier this year, it was actually some of his colleagues who shut down the project for six months in 2012.
Last year, Augusta commissioners questioned the department’s hiring of three employees to help with the relocation process.
“Then, that makes it even worse,” Williams said, insisting that the commission must accept some of the blame in delaying the process. “I have heartburn when I think about the seniors who are over in that area who don’t have a voice. They don’t know who to talk to.
“I have people who are in a really bad situation over there. I don’t know what to do.”
Williams insisted that he was not blaming the city’s housing department, but he felt frustrated by the entire process.
“I know you can’t get all the people out at one time. I have enough sense to understand that,” Williams said. “But there are some people who are ready to go. They want to leave, but some people can’t come down here (and talk to the commission). They don’t have a voice. They don’t even know how to get on the agenda.”
Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett reiterated that whenever property is being sold and the city is relocating an entire neighborhood, there are legal requirements that must be addressed.
“Sometimes you can’t do it as fast as you would like,” Lockett said, adding that Hogan was working as hard as she could to relocate residents. “I know as many times as you’ve been before this body, if you could waive a magic wand and get it done, y’all would have done it a long time ago.”
Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson agreed that relocating a neighborhood does not happen overnight.
“Just because you have a million dollars in your pocket, doesn’t mean you can buy the property today,” Jackson said. “There is due process that we have to go through.”
Williams said he appreciated everyone’s comments, but he couldn’t just talk about the problem any longer. He was going to have to take action.
“I am going to go over there. I’m going to Hyde Park. I am going to help you out Ms. Hogan. I am going to do some things myself,” Williams said. “I am going to find out who I can take down to probate court. I got to help these folks out.”

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