By John Schaffner
Atlanta Parks Department representative Al Dodson relayed a health warning to members of the Neighborhood Planning Unit B board of directors Oct. 6 in the aftermath of the floods that dumped sewage and other dangerous chemicals throughout Buckhead parks — most notably Atlanta Memorial Park.
Dodson said he was out at Atlanta Memorial Park and “ran a few, I will say nannies, away from the park who had kids out there playing on what obviously was very dirty, dangerous playscape.
“We are trying to put yellow tape up to warn people of the danger of e-coli and to stay away from it,” Dodson said. “They are out there sitting on it, letting the little kids play” in what he said is a very dangerous health situation.
“I can see that if we ever had a really big disaster, there would be a thinning of the herd,” Dodson told the representatives of Buckhead neighborhoods and businesses. “Because women had their purses down on the ground, their kids were playing in what they thought was just mud, but it was much more dangerous than just mud.”
Most of the parks are in the flood plains, he explained. “They [the flood plains] did what they were supposed to do. But it wasn’t a pretty stream of clear water. It was water that had a little bit of everything in it.”
He said his department has been doing assessments, but had not been doing any samples of sludge, or monitoring of the health factors, such as e-coli.
Asked if he had any idea how long it will take to clean up the parks and get them back to normal, Dodson replied, “As a rule of thumb, I would say we are looking at years.
“To get it all cleaned up and back to normal. It wasn’t just water. It was water with wastewater, sewage, that flowed through these parks. Pesticides. That is the kind of thing we are up against right now,” he explained.
“Currently we are trying to figure out how we are going to fix things … just trying to figure out what we can do.” He said someone asked him if he couldn’t get the fire department out there and have them wash everything down.
This certainly was not like a normal storm coming through. He said 90 percent of the ballfields sustained some type of damage.
“It was like a baby Katrina. I had no idea of the magnitude until I started driving around Tuesday morning after the flooding,” Dodson said. “A lot of it couldn’t even be assessed until after the water receded. Water traveled where it normally would not go, because the system designed to handle it could not handle all of it.”
He said he has not been in all the recreation centers, but every day they are getting reports of mold, mildew, and water pipe problems. In fact, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the flood period the department was kept out of their own building because the building was flooded.
“We were hit when we had the least amount of resources and people,” he said. The Parks Department lost its welding shop, its northeast maintenance shop and vehicles. “We really got hammered,” he added.
“ Luckily or unluckily, we now are a disaster area,” Dodson said. “The good part is that we have been declared. The bad part is that now we have a whole new set of rules we have to abide by, but they haven’t told us all the rules yet.”
He said the department is asking people who want to help through donations to give to Park Pride.