Republican Roger B. Hayden tried to claim the high ground on the environment in the race for Baltimore County executive, but instead got bogged down when the pollution record of his long-time employer was questioned.
"The current Baltimore County administration has shown a clear lack of leadership in protecting our environment," Hayden said in a three-page statement. "People cannot be allowed to ruin the environment for the sake of a dollar."
Hayden, a 45-year-old former county school board president, tried to portray himself at a press conference as a stronger environmental advocate than Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, but he ran into trouble from Dennis LeBare, who said he was attending the news conference as "just a fisherman."
LeBare turned out to be a member of Trout Unlimited armed with state records about pollution complaints against Hayden's employer of 22 years, Eastern Stainless Corp. in southeastern Baltimore County. Hayden left Eastern in 1985 as vice president in charge of operations.
LeBare belongs to a coalition of 13 environmental groups and individuals who a day earlier had endorsed Rasmussen, the Democratic incumbent.
The group, calling itself the Watershed Alliance, also includes John Kabler, of Clean Water Action, who praised Rasmussen's environmental program as the best in Maryland. Jim Gracie, former national president of Trout Unlimited, credited the executive with creating "the best stream protection and restoration program in the United States."
Leaders from groups such as Save Our Streams, Baltimore Recycling Coalition, Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman's Association, Gunpowder Valley Conservancy and the Friends of Leakin Park joined in the endorsement at Cox's Point Park on Back River in Essex on Wednesday. Specifically, the group praised Rasmussen's creation of a vigorous environmental department.
Saying he had no knowledge of the endorsement, Hayden confirmed at the news conference that he has told some eastern Baltimore County waterfront property owners that if elected he will fire county Environmental Director Robert W. Sheesley if their complaints about the official "intimidating" citizens are true.
Sheesley later characterized such complaints as "preposterous." Some residents have criticized the state's Chesapeake Bay Critical Area restrictions on waterfront property, he said, and the county has sent memos to the state commission when it agrees with them. His department must enforce the law, however.
LaBare questioned Hayden about Eastern Stainless, which was cited repeatedly by state environmental officials in the early 1980s for contaminating ground water and a nearby stream with chrome and other toxic chemicals, according to records on file at the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Hayden maintained that many of the problems dated from before World War II, and that the company has worked to comply with state laws, even if not as quickly as the state would like.
He added that he was vice president in charge of operations only during his last year at Eastern and had no direct responsibility for pollution in his other jobs at the firm over 22 years.
The company's biggest problem was with a landfill where for two decades it had disposed of nickel- and chrome-contaminated dust collected from its pollution control equipment.
The illegal landfill, which had been ordered closed in 1981, was not officially closed until 1988, three years after the plant changed owners and five years after the company originally submitted a plan to limit further contamination and pollution from the site.
The ground water beneath the plant site continues to be tainted with high concentrations of acids, nickel and chrome, according to the state records.
Eastern Stainless, which began manufacturing stainless steel ingots and sheets in 1919, was the last industrial polluter in Maryland to come into compliance with its wastewater discharge permit. The company signed an agreement with the state last July to upgrade its on-site pollution treatment and paid a $50,550 penalty -- the largest administrative fine ever collected by the state -- for past violations.
"When I was there, the company worked diligently to monitor pollution problems" and to correct them, Hayden said. "We did things before they were required."
"It makes you more aware of what the problems are," he said of the firm's history of pollution problems.