ANNAPOLIS -- The political tiff over medevac helicopters, provoked this week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, continued yesterday as the lieutenant governor and House speaker said the governor can surely put a helicopter on the Eastern Shore if he really wants to.
Wednesday, fresh from an Eastern Shore vacation, the governor declared that he would be willing to improve emergency helicopter service on the Shore -- if House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, would promise to keep funds in the next state budget for a new copter.
The governor also said the plan to park a spare medevac helicopter at Centreville at night as an interim solution -- a plan proposed by Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Mr. Mitchell -- was "totally unsatisfactory." Mr. Schaefer said Shore citizens "are being conned" if they believe that arrangement would solve their problems.
Yesterday, Mr. Steinberg said he had never contended that basing a spare helicopter in Centreville would cover the area satisfactorily. "It was purely a temporary solution. It was always a temporary solution," Mr. Steinberg said.
Mr. Steinberg heads the Maryland Executive Helicopter Advisory Committee, which oversees the state's medevac helicopter service.
Maryland has nine twin-engine, 365N-1 Dauphin helicopters based at six locations around the state.
A single-engine Bell Jet Ranger helicopter is based at Centreville, but it does not fly at night or in bad weather.
In January and February, Mr. Steinberg said, he sent reports to the governor's office asking for approval to move a spare Dauphin from Martin State Airport, in Middle River, to Centreville at night.
"I was told to hold off" by the governor's office, Mr. Steinberg said. That was the last he heard about the Centreville copter until Mr. Schaefer raised the issue Wednesday.
Mr. Steinberg said he planned to discuss the issue with Mr. Schaefer today, after the governor's return from a trip to Chicago.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mitchell said he didn't understand why he should pledge to buy a new helicopter in the future when the governor wasn't willing to move a spare helicopter to Centreville now.
"I can't make promises about next year's budget because we're not out of this year's budget," Mr. Mitchell said.
Besides, the speaker added, it's the governor who prepares the budget and could include funds next winter for a new French-made Dauphin -- costing more than $4 million -- if he chooses to.
"But there is a solution to the problem right now," Mr. Mitchell said.
"The governor, if he desires, can endorse the lieutenant governor's plan and my plan to put that spare helicopter over there," he said. "And the governor, if he chooses to, can put the money in the budget."
"I would assume the governor calls the shots," Mr. Mitchell said. "He's the head of the state. We could have the helicopter over here [the Eastern Shore] tomorrow night.
"The problem seems to be that the governor is reluctant for some reason to have the helicopter based here [on the Eastern Shore] rather than over there [in Baltimore County]. He seems to think it's better to have the helicopter sitting over there."