City to pay for Hyde Park residents to move 'anywhere they want'

News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Folks who live in Augusta's Hyde Park neighborhood are finally getting a ticket out as the city prepares to build a drainage pond.

Part of the project requires the city to pay for new homes for the people being moved, but the city could end up paying for a lot more than just a move across town.

Joeanne Jones has lived in Hyde Park her whole life and says it's taken 40 years, but the project is finally happening. She's thrilled the city is finally moving her out of the flood-prone area.

"We've got drainage issues above that area, where we to fix those issues, are going to have to build basins and ponds," City Administrator Fred Russell said.

But as pieces of the puzzle start to come together, this may end up being more expensive than expected for the city.

The director of the project, Chester Wheeler III, says, "If they want to move to New York City, if they choose to do that, there's no restriction."

Commissioners chose to use the Uniform Relocation Act as a guideline to move people out of Hyde Park, but it wasn't a mandatory choice.

"The city chose to follow the Federal Relocation Act on their own. That is not a federal project, so there was no mandate to use federal regulations," Wheeler said.

The guidelines require the city to make sure the people they are kicking off their property are "made whole" by the end of the process, which is a nice gesture, but it could get pricey for taxpayers.

"We're having the freedom to choose our location, where we want to move," Jones said.

And if Jones chooses to move across the country, the city won't just be footing the bill for her new house.

We asked Wheeler: "Does the city have to pay for their moving expenses?"

"Yes, they will," he replied.

"So if they decide to move to NYC, the city has to pay for that?" we asked.

Wheeler nodded in agreement.

Although some commissioners disagreed on approving the federal guidelines, Commissioner Bill Lockett says regardless of the city's cost, it was the right choice.

"They're not coming to us saying we want to sell our property, we are actually taking their property. And if we're going to take their property, the least we can do is make them whole," he said.

Phase one of the four-step process is underway. The city expects to start moving people to new homes as early as May or June.

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