By John Schaffner

Much of the city parkland in Buckhead is still strewn with yellow caution tape—warning residents of unsafe conditions—as the city continues to negotiate with federal and state emergency management agencies to fund cleanup after September’s historic flood.

In addition to the residue from sewage overflows that still coats many parks, such as Buckhead’s Memorial Park, sinkholes are popping up throughout the system, including a 15-foot sinkhole on the pitching mound of one of the city’s ball fields.

“One of the biggest issues and dangers is sinkholes,” explained Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department representative Al Dodson to the board of Neighborhood Planning Unit B on Nov. 2. “Sinkholes don’t just show up the day after.” He indicated new ones are showing up almost weekly.

Asked how much of the parkland in Buckhead is off limits to residents, Dodson said, “What we are trying to do is put up this caution tape. Unfortunately, we put it up and people come and take it down. We are trying to make people understand that we are still out here assessing. We are still out here trying to clean up stuff,” he added.

“It is a slow process and we are moving ahead as fast as we can with the resources that we have available,” he added.

Dodson said the last count on the loss just for the R.M. Clayton Water Treatment Plant was $50-60 million. “With the parks, my assessment is right about $6 million [in park damages],” he said. “Where I am going to get $6 million from is a whole other issue.”

Dodson said the city is in the assessment process with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Unfortunately, a lot of our property falls in flood plains and FEMA frowns upon flood plains.”

He said they are trying to figure out what might be covered by insurance. “One of the problems with FEMA is that if we clean up stuff before they see it, they tend not to pay for it. So, we have been trying to get a lot of the safety hazards out of the way — the debris, the trees, all those kinds of things, barricading the sinkholes — but basically we are just kind of strapped right now.”

Dodson said, “Once it goes to FEMA, it then goes to [Georgia Emergency Management Agency], GEMA to the insurance companies, back to FEMA and, if we are lucky, FEMA will pay up to 75 percent of covered charges. That is why FEMA still has money,” he concluded.

Asked if FEMA is less likely to cooperate with the city because of the many parks it has located in flood plains, Dodson answered, “It is more that we should not build structures in flood plains. Unfortunately, a lot of our ball fields are in flood plains.

“If this had been a normal flood it might not have been such a major problem,” he indicated. “As you know we had some fields that were under six or seven feet of water, and I use the term water loosely.” He would not further define what he meant by water.

“In a normal flood it would have just been a couple of days or weeklong experience. But, with the September flood, “stuff came from where it normally doesn’t come,” he said.

“It has devastated the areas,” Dodson stated. “There is a residue that has been left on the soil. It takes a while to eradicate that. The only way we know to really get rid of it on a lot of our ball fields is to dig up the ball field and replace it.” He said he is getting bids on that right now.