Residents of Plantation Acres are wondering whether or not their water will keep running, while the new property owner is nowhere to be found. (WRDW-TV / June 26, 2012)
News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, June 26, 2012
HEPHZIBAH, Ga. -- More than 300 people in Hephzibah could be living without running water by Wednesday.
Residents at Plantation Acres Mobile Home park on Deans Bridge Road are starting to panic.
Commissioner Alvin Mason tell News 12 that this is a safety issue and a health hazard. Now they're trying to track down the park's owner.
"First of all, I'd rather by back in Vietnam fighting than fighting these people here," said Thomas Winston, a disabled veteran who's lived in Plantation Acres for 13 years.
Now, he says a lack of any local management is turning their mobile home park into a wasteland.
"There's nothing that we can do," Winston said.
Plantation Acres is right off Deans Bridge Road. The property is home to more than 300 people in 104 mobile homes.
Residents like Tiffany Livingston say they've been without air conditioning for months.
"I'm not gonna lie, I'm blessed it's not like last summer. Because if it was last summer, I'm sure my dogs or somebody would be dead already," she said.
Other neighbors have the same complaint.
"My air conditioning unit is not workable. It's obsolete," said Geneva Rogers. "And the floor of my home fell in. My son had to fix it because the landlord wouldn't."
In other yards, sewage is bubbling up. Residents' leases show they pay nearly $600 a month.
"Because I've resigned, we have no property manager," said Annette Winston, who resigned from the position last week.
Winston says the new owner refused to pay for maintenance problems.
"I have talked to the previous owner. He has no interest in the park anymore. And the new owner will not accept phone calls. He will not answer emails," Winston said.
Commissioner Mason is getting involved now. He tells News 12 that Michael Butler is the new owner, and Jefferson Electric reports Butler's power bill at Plantation Acres is delinquent.
"We do have a responsibility to our citizens to help them remain safe and to have them in an environment where they are relatively comfortable," Mason said.
Even though it's private property, Mason promises he won't sleep until he knows the people at Plantation Acres are okay.
If the power is shut down, street lights will go dark.
"That's a huge safety issue. It's a large space that would be dangerously dark with no street lights," he said.
Even though residents pay their own individual power bills, Mason says Butler is responsible for the cost of power to the street lights and drinking well. The well will stop pumping water if Jefferson Energy turns off power to the office and streets.
"I've got friends that are going to use food stamps to buy bottles of water to wash and cook with," said resident Tiffany Phillips. "How am I supposed to tell my 5-year-old nephew why we can't give him a bath? Can't make him mac and cheese? We won't have any water."
Many are filling up their bathtubs and stockpiling coolers full of clean water. Phillips and her friend spent Monday night filling coolers and bottles with water.
Mason says he is appalled by the conditions.
"These folks are literally filling up their bathtubs ... are you kidding me? It's 2012. We shouldn't be having any problems like this," he said.
Mason and City Administrator Fred Russell are working with Jefferson Energy. They say, for now, the company is agreeing to eat the costs and keep the power on at Plantation Acres.
"I'm p'd off like everyone else. But you gotta keep control," said resident George Lewis. "If [Butler] would just come here and work it out, talk to us, then maybe we'd be okay."
Winston said if the trailer park was condemned, they'd all have to be out in 72 hours.
"These people can't move their homes. They don't have the money. Plus, their homes are too old. Where are they going?" she said.
Many people have no idea where they will go.
"I don't know. I'm being real, real honest with you. I really don't know," Rogers said.
Mason says they're going to track the new owner down.
"We're going to find him, and we're going to hold him accountable for what he needs to do for the citizens of Augusta Richmond County," he said.
Until then, residents are hot, yards are smelly and access to clean water is at the mercy of Jefferson Energy.
We're told the new owner, Butler, lives in Texas. As of Tuesday afternoon, Butler had not returned calls to News 12, the commissioner or the power company.
In recent years, a SPLOST project paid for water and sewage lines to be extended to this part of Hephzibah for Plantation Acres. The owners of the park never connected to the lines, so they're still dependent on septic tanks and a well.
"We're consulting with the city's legal team to see what else we can do," Mason said.