ANNAPOLIS -- Back from an Eastern Shore vacation, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he wanted the state to provide full-time medevac helicopter service there -- but only if Speaker of the House R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, promises that the legislature will pay for it.
The state police now keep an older, single-engine Bell Jet Ranger at Centreville.
Because of safety concerns, the helicopter does not fly at night or in bad weather.
"What I need is a commitment from the speaker of the House that he will support a new helicopter," Mr. Schaefer said.
He met with local officials in Hurlock, Dorchester County, Tuesday night.
Mr. Mitchell, who represents the Upper Shore, has said the state's budget problems rule out purchase of another of the French-made 365N-1 Dauphin II helicopters, which cost about $4.4 million each. The state has nine of the twin-engine Dauphins, based at six locations around Maryland.
But the governor's comments also appear to be a challenge to Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who heads the Maryland Executive Advisory Committee.
Mr. Steinberg had suggested moving the fleet's "ready spare" copter from Martin State Airport, in Middle River, to Centreville at night to cover when the Bell Jet Ranger is grounded.
That arrangement, Mr. Schaefer declared yesterday, would be "totally unsatisfactory."
If any Eastern Shore citizens believe it would solve their problems, they "are being conned," the governor said.
"You need a permanent solution, not one that gives false hope."
Neither Mr. Mitchell nor Mr. Steinberg could be reached for comment.
Mr. Schaefer, whose relationships with lawmakers and his lieutenant governor grew ever more testy during the legislative session, returned from a week's vacation apparently unmellowed.
At a meeting of the Board of Public Works, he took time to note that newspapers had suffered in his week's absence.
"You notice how dull The Sun paper has been recently?" he asked. "Absolutely one of the dullest newspapers I've ever seen. They don't have a fall guy."
But he was pleased to note that he had been treated well on the Eastern Shore, not his favorite area since he lost seven of nine counties last November to Republican William Seth Shepard.
In January, Mr. Schaefer likened the Shore to an outhouse -- a comment that outraged Shore legislators, though the governor said it had been taken out of context.
He publicly apologized.
Over the last week, he said, Shore citizens have made him feel all is forgiven.
"It's the Eastern Shore I knew before the last election," he told the Board of Public Works, "one where people are friendly."
Later he added: "I was treated as I was prior to the election. Restaurants, stores I went to -- it was like old times, like the Shore I've known for 30 years."
At a meeting Tuesday night with about 100 members of the Lower Eastern Shore Mayors Association, Mr. Schaefer was greeted with a standing ovation, said Don Bradley, mayor of Hurlock.
"Everybody had a good time."
Mr. Bradley said the governor raised the issue of the helicopter. "He asked that, if we were concerned about it, we should contact members of the legislature, particularly the speaker."
With a reminder that he cannot spend money without the legislature's approval, Mr. Schaefer said that if Mr. Mitchell promises to keep money in the next budget for a new Dauphin, the spare helicopter could be put in Centreville as an interim solution.
But he added that Southern Maryland and Western Maryland also have asked for medevac bases and said he'd like to see a study on helicopter deployment.
"These are studies that should have been done. Nobody knows what they're doing."