By John Schaffner
After months of warning Buckhead residents that Memorial Park off Northside Drive was dangerously contaminated by E. coli and fecal matter after September’s flood, a city Parks Department representative now has declared it “all safe.”
Parks Department representative Al Dodson said that following continued reports of dangerous contamination of the soil at Memorial Park and other city parks and recreation facilities, tests recently conducted showed that the park was no longer a danger to residents who use it.
Dodson said the tests showed that the E. coli level at the park “is in the hundreds. It has to be in the millions to be at a dangerous level,” he reported at the Jan. 5 meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit B (NPU-B).
He indicated that reports in the Buckhead Reporter of the potential health dangers at the park prompted the city to conduct the tests.
Following the tests, the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs removed almost all of the yellow caution tape that had been strewn throughout the park.
Dodson had warned in October and November of the health problems that existed in Buckhead parks due to sewage overflows caused by the September 22 floods. In December, he said “one of the biggest issues and dangers is sinkholes” that had been popping up throughout the parks system.
He said in December that the city had been unable to collect any money from the Federal Emergency Management Authority to help defray the costs of cleanup and repairs.
Asked again at the January NPU-B meeting how his department was doing in getting funds from FEMA or its Georgia companion organization GEMA, Dodson said the city is “still having to recoup money from FEMA for the tornado of two years ago.”
Dodson said the FEMA person he had been working with for months, who took off on vacation just before Thanksgiving, still had not returned to Atlanta.
Meanwhile, what Dodson did not tell the NPU board was that local Buckhead neighborhood volunteers, supported by a $500 grant from the Buckhead Coalition, had taken the cleanup of Memorial Park into their own hands, renting pressure washers and cleaning the playground equipment and other structures.
However, NPU board member Garth Peters, who works for the Buckhead Coalition, mentioned the organization’s donation to the Memorial Park Civic Association, allowing it to hire a service to pressure wash and decontaminate parts of the park.
Dodson also reported to NPU-B that Paul Taylor now is acting director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, following the resignation of Diane Harnell-Cohen in December, prior to the end of Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration and the inauguration of the Kasim Reed as mayor. Harnell-Cohen had been appointed to the post of director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs by Franklin.