The Inside Story: Activist pushing city to reconsider relocating Hyde Park residents

Hyde Park activist
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News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He is the outspoken community activist who has proven he is willing to go jail for what he believes.

Woody Merry is back, and he is pushing the city to reconsider relocating an entire Augusta neighborhood.

The plan is to turn the Hyde Park community into a regional retention pond.

Merry says he has a different plan.

"We've got elderly people that have been there their entire life," he said. "Sixty-three to 65 years."

A plan to relocate people living in the flood prone Hyde Park community is lighting up the airwaves. City leaders made the case for turning the area into a regional retention pond on our weekly radio segment on 96.3 KISS FM. The pond would relieve flooding in a 3-to-5-mile radius.

"This is not something that just came up a couple of years ago," said Commissioner Corey Johnson. "This has been going on for years. I'm talking at least three decades or better."

Merry is now saying let's make a deal. He is offering 5 acres of land from a family trust to the city for free to build that pond.

"The easiest thing to do is take this land. You don't have to remove anybody," Merry said. "There is already a drainage canal cut."

Johnson says no thanks.

"The 5 acres is fine," Johnson said. "But it's not enough to do what we need to do to create that regional pond. We need 20 acres."

"And what are they going to do with the people that don't want to move?" Merry asked. "They are just going to evict them?"

More than 60 households are impacted, and Merry is naming names of those against being forced out.

"Mrs. Lilly and her husband cleared that land by hand and you're going to evict her?" questioned Merry. "An 89-year-old woman who has lived there 63 years? Come on."

But there are also people like Joe-Anne Jones whose home is falling down around her.

"We want out of here," Jones said. "What's the holdup?"

Commissioners recently approved more than $400,000 to jump-start that relocation plan.

"We have enough funding to pretty much get everybody out of there." Johnson said. "Let's be clear. The funding is already there for that."

The entire project will cost more than $18 million. The city has about $4 million so far -- enough to relocate the community.

The plan from Merry:
"We have been working diligently with a team of experts to come up with feasible and cost effective solutions to the flooidng problem in Hyde Park.

We have a family trust who is willing to donate 5 acres to the city of Augusta for a detention pond. The lot and parcel numbers are 087-0-005-00-0-3.588 (170 Dan Bowles Road) and 087-4-172-00-0-1.835 (166 Dan Bowles Road). The size of this property and its elevation are perfect for the construction of a detention pond. There is a drainage ditch already in place and currently feeding water to Phinizy Swamp. This, along with the following, will eliviate the flooding problem at Hyde Park.

The city of Augusta paved many ditches in Hyde Park. However, many of the residents will rake their leaves into these ditches, causing them to clog, thus holding water. Many ditches have become just plain old trash dumps, again causing the stoppage of water flow. Replace ditches with concrete pipe. Build culverts with grates. This is a lot less expensive than $18 million.

To assist in drainage of Hyde Park, the city installed drainage pipes underneath the railroad tracks. This helped tremendously, but residents complained that they needed more and possibly bigger pipes. Add more and possibly bigger pipes under the railroad.

According to officials from Phinizy Swamp, they have no issues with the stormwater runoff going directly into the swamp. Why not direct runoff into the swamp?

These solutions should be explored before we destroy Hyde Park. The residents who have come to me are proud of their homes and do not want to relocate. Several of these homes were built with money provided by the G.I. Bill after World War II. Some were built by hand one brick at a time. Many men worked at the local Merry Brothers Brick & Tile Co. and were given bricks and concrete blocks, mostly seconds, to build their homes.

Residents have fond memories as children helping clear the land and help their parents with construction. There is not another community in our area that has the distinction of this type of dedication to family.

Combining these two soloutions will permenantly eliminate flooding in the Hyde Park community and save the city millions."

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