By Kevin Hogencamp
The City of Albany’s mysteriously motivated downtown bus station proposal, which suddenly grew in price more than threefold last year and by another $1.5 million since then, has some new, powerful public opposition.
Albany Land Co. President Harold R. “Huddy” Hudgens and John Sperry, Albany’s former city engineer, recently documented their concerns with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The bus transfer facility, touted as a “multimodal” facility that will accommodate high-speed rail transportation although none is planned for the area, is being planned in Sandy Bottom north of the Dougherty County Judicial Building, south of Roosevelt Boulevard, and west of Washington Avenue. It would replace the city transit transfer facility on West Oglethorpe Boulevard.
Although city officials say that it’s a state project and state officials claim it’s a city project, and despite it not being identified as being among the community’s transportation needs, the proposed bus station has grown from $2.3 million to $10.7 million as federal “stimulus” funding became available.
In 2009 when the city performed a federally mandated environmental assessment on the property, nearby property owners who oppose the bus station’s move requested that the city conduct an archaeological survey. The city denied the request; but when the city falsified documentation to make its case for a new center to be built downtown, the federal government pulled its “stimulus” funding. But the city and state continue to pursue federal funding for the project, claiming that an environmental assessment drafted in January 2011 was performed above-board this time.
Public records show that federal funding was pulled because the city and state failed to follow the procedures outlined in the applicable environmental regulations and had obtained federal funding based upon an inadequate and flawed environmental assessment. In addition to environmental regulations, the project hadn’t passed National Historic Preservation Act muster, either, as adjacent property includes a structure that was built in 1885.
Following is Sperry’s letter to the Georgia DOT:
“This is in response to the Documentation in Support of an environmental assessment pursuant to 23 CFR Part 771.119 and 771.121 for Albany Multimodal Transportation Center, Dougherty County, Georgia, GDOT Project T003329, dated January, 2011.
There was noted that there was a problem from leaking fuel near the present Fire Station Headquarters. This has been ongoing for many years and to my knowledge has not been completely cleared. There may be other tank problems in the area as older businesses were closed before the present regulations were in effect.
The largest problem would seem to be the major combined sewage outfall known as the brick line which crosses this project. This is an ancient brick arch sewer which was laid in an old drainage bed in Albany’s early days. The sewer is in poor condition and has collapsed on occasion.
Albany continues to separate its sanitary and storm sewage and the only feasible way is to build new storm links and turn the old system over to sanitary use as we cannot find all of the sanitary connections. This is obviously a major undertaking in “Old Albany”.
One clear issue is that it will be many years before high speed passenger train service will come to Albany. In the mean time, the majority of the citizens using the terminal will have several blocks further to walk to use the facility.
I grew up on North Jackson Street in Albany and walked many times the one and one half blocks to spend my nickel at the Dairy Shop where the Fire Station is located. I have been actively involved in the engineering business in Albany for s60 years and retired in 1994 as City Engineer after working the previous seven years for the City. I am now the storm drainage consultant for Dougherty County on an “as needed” basis.”
Hudgens formerly chaired the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission. Following are excerpts from his lengthy letter to the DOT:
- In my professional opinion, the site selected is one of the worst sites that could have been selected as it has many ongoing problems … I feel certain that other sites are available that would meet the criteria for this facility that have not been looked at or were eliminated because of other political agendas.
- There is no one who will take responsibility for the project as it has passed around that this is not a city project. It is not a GDOT project Well, whose project is it? It definitely is not a project that is going to benefit the citizens of the City of Albany. The property is physically within the 100-yaer flood plane and the elevation has been monkeyed with in order to meet federal requirements to receive monies from the U.S. government funneled through GDOT.
- It is located adjacent to the headquarters of the Fire Department of the City of Albany which dispatches fire trucks all over Albany, in particular the downtown area and the hospital area to the north. Mixing transportation traffic from buses would further complicate the dispatching of emergency response vehicles and these two uses do not mix.
- I do not think that in the next 50-75 years we will ever see any multimodal high speed transportation connecting Albany to anything. Albany is losing population, not gaining population, and there has been no concerted effort to develop high speed trains from Atlanta to Athens, or Atlanta to Macon, or Atlanta to Columbus, so who in their wildest speculation would think that Albany would ever see any train connection to the site.
- The parking lot that the proposed project is planned for is used for parking for the court system at the Courthouse and during court session, it is one of the few choices that jurors have for long-term parking.
- There is also an underground plume of petroleum that varies in elevation based upon the water table in the area which is closely tied to the elevation of the Flint River due to its proximity … If current Phase II soil tests were done by a legitimate company not previously involved in the problem, I think the site would be eliminated because of the existing pollution that exists on the site today. This process has been whitewashed or covered up using consultants that were less than objective in their analysis.
- The as now planned project will clearly incorporate land from both the Albany Downtown Historic District and the Albany Freedom Historic District for a transportation facility. This is evidenced by maps of these historic districts included in the Georgia Department of Transportation Assessment of Effects report and the FTA cannot deny what is obvious. Further, all powers of the Historic Preservation Commission have been taken from them by the City Commission who now makes all decisions as to the future and how the Historic Preservation regulations are interpreted. This was done in order to allow the City Commission to make any and all decisions in reference to historic preservation in Albany. The Historic Commission in Albany is basically useless as they only make a recommendation which the City Commission has full authority to override. The Historic Commission is a joke and a waste of their time.
- The current Environmental Assessment dated January 2011 is based upon a lot of information that was fabricated years ago … There are all types of flawed documents tied to this site and GDOT has participated in facilitating these flawed documents being used. GDOT has gotten the State Historic Preservation Officer to endorse anything they want especially in reference to this site. There has been no objective scrutiny by either organization.”
The proposed site, which was approved in 2001 by the Albany City Commission, contains Native American artifacts and otherwise may be of historical and cultural significance – a possibility the city ignored in the taxpayer-financed environmental assessment despite citizens’ objections.
Meanwhile, the public’s concerns about the bus station project not only were ignored during the approval process, officials falsely claimed in the assessment that no public comments were received, records show. Also, state and local transportation officials erroneously claimed that a transportation facility would not be on property severely prone to flooding, public records show.
Former Albany City Manager Lott deflected public criticism about the flawed Environmental Assessment to the DOT, saying that the state – not the city — is administering the project. Public records say otherwise.
“This project has been conceived, planned, and is being controlled by the City of Albany,” city transportation planner David Hamilton said last year. “GDOT as a state agency is helping the City to move the project ahead for the benefit of the community. GDOT has retained the services of CHA Inc. and their subconsultants to revise the Environmental Assessment document.”
By Kevin Hogencamp