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GA: Augusta Commission Approves More Funding for Broke Hyde Park Project

Money troubles be damned, Augusta, GA is spending more money to relocate people from the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Last night the Augusta Commission voted to approve an additional $630,000 for the financially troubled project that has the city purchasing residents’ property to build a drainage pond.

According to WJBF’s George Eskola, around 30 percent of the neighborhood’s residents have been relocated. The city plans to acquire 370 parcels of land and demolish 189 buildings.

To complete the project, city engineers will need a lot more money. Here’s an exchange from the commission’s meeting recounted by Eskola:

“We’re still about 4 to 5 million dollars short,” says City Engineering Department Director Abie Ladson

“Just for relocation?”

“That is correct.”

 “How are you going to find that extra money?”

“We’re in the process…to see where we can identify or use some funds,” says Ladson.

Beyond the funding needed for relocations, the city may also needs as much as $10 million to build the drainage pond.

Watchdog Wire has learned one area of funding could from the federal government’s Silver Jackets program. Administered in part by the Army Corps of Engineers, this program provides assistance to local and state governments to mitigate flooding risks.

The program has funded a study “to determine the economic justification of demolishing all 189 homes in the Hyde Park Subdivision and relocating the residents,” according to documents obtained by Watchdog Wire.

Where’s the money going?

Augusta has repeatedly refused to disclose where the relocation money is going. Hyde Park residents are allowed to relocate to wherever they want, meaning that Augusta taxpayer dollars could be spent in other municipalities.

Watchdog Wire requested information about the relocations, but the Augusta Law Department denied the request. In an email, Wayne Brown, Senior Staff Attorney, said that “the records that you have requested are exempt from disclosure at this time” because the project is ongoing.

Email from Wayne Brown, Senior Staff Attorney of Augusta’s Law Department. (Click to enlarge)

In making that determination, Mr. Brown cites Georgia’s Open Records Law which says real estate appraisals are not subject to public disclosure “until such time as the property has been acquired or the proposed transaction has been terminated or abandoned.”

In other words, until all of the residents are relocated or the project is abandoned, the public has no right to know where the money is going.

But here’s the issue with Mr. Brown’s legal logic: some property has already been acquired and some residents have already been relocated. Shouldn’t that information be disclosed, since, to quote the law, “property has been acquired”?

WJBF News Channel 6 requested similar information and was denied repeatedly. Earlier this year the city’s response to Watchdog Wire’s open records request was in violation of state law.

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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