Advocate for stream cleanup giving up fight? Monroe Haines says he'll turn to other causes

October 19, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Monroe Haines has talked for weeks about giving up his fight to save the unnamed stream that flows through Westminster to the West Branch of the Patapsco River.

But maybe it's just talk.

Mr. Haines, of Westminster, frequently can be seen walking along the banks of the stream, which runs parallel to Railroad Avenue before it meets the West Branch, about a half-mile northeast of Route 140.

And he still talks about it.

"That water is going to be protected no matter what I have to do," Mr. Haines said. "When that water is not clear, Monroe has got to do something. My stream comes first."

Does this sound like a man ready to retire from a six-year battle to keep the stream clean?

But he has made his resignation official. A terse letter announcing his departure as watchdog of the tributary was sent to the Carroll County commissioners and local newspapers.

"This letter will serve to notify you that I have chosen to volunteer my time and expertise in some other directions where it might be of more value and may be more appreciated," he wrote.

So, the retired mechanic ventured away from the stream, walking door-to-door along Main Street and other well-traveled streets in Westminster collecting pledges for a walk-a-thon for the American Heart Association. He raised more than $2,000.

The 70-year-old Mr. Haines will travel outside the county this week to help former employees of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and other firms clean up debris and plant trees in Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood.

"I can't envision him walking away from the stream," said County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. "He's had a true concern for the cleanup of that stream. It's due to his efforts alone that the stream has been cleaned."

Haines' fight to save the stream -- "our drinking water," he said -- began in earnest in 1989 after he found sludge being dumped there.

"That's when my fight really began," he said.

He had been watching the stream for three years. "The odor was so darned bad it would have strangled you," he said.

A short time later, Mr. Haines discovered railroad ties and other debris dumped along the stream. He told Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown about the problem, and the mayor wrote a letter to Maryland Midland Railway, which eventually cleaned up the debris.

Mr. Haines' fight, though, didn't stop with the railroad. He kept an eye on businesses discharging into the stream as well. He has walked the area to monitor what businesses away from the stream are dumping in storm drains.

On some days he found the stream murky or rainbow-colored. On more than one occasion, he has presented the commissioners with a jar filled with polluted water from the stream.

"If it's got colors in it, you know something's wrong," Mr. Haines said. "Monroe ain't going to tolerate that."

Mr. Haines estimated he has spent 1,000 to 1,500 hours a year walking the length of the stream, which eventually flows into Liberty Reservoir. Sometimes he has visited the tributary, part of Baltimore's public water supply system, three or four times a day.

State and county environmental officials have described the tributary as a typical urban stream, one that has been heavily hit by industrial runoff. It's not a stream expected to have high quality or aquatic life, they said.

At times Mr. Haines has been aided in his efforts by the county's health department, its environmental staff and the Maryland Department of the Environment. Occasionally Boy Scouts and other volunteers have helped clean debris from the stream.

"They've been a great help," Mr. Haines said of the county and state officials. "But they haven't pushed the real issue. They want to look for a grant to clean up the stream.

"We don't need any handouts to stop what's going on in there. We can take Boy Scouts and clean up there. That's my theory."

Through his efforts, two unauthorized discharges have been discovered and stopped, two other companies have obtained permits to regulate the quality of their discharges, and administrative fines were issued against another polluter for unauthorized discharges.

"He's kept attention focused on the stream," said James E. Slater, administrator of the county's Office of the Environment. "Because of him there have been efforts made to correct [problems]."

Mr. Slater said that people such as Mr. Haines -- extreme though they may seem -- are beneficial because they keep an eye on issues.

Mr. Haines' activism has won admirers and enemies.

"Frankly, I'm an admirer of Monroe Haines," said Mayor Brown. "He's like a bulldog with something in his mouth that he won't let go of. It's our good fortune to have him."

"In this day and age, attention should be directed on industrial pollution," Mr. Brown said. He said the city is fortunate to have someone with Mr. Haines' time and energy to monitor the stream.

And there are enemies. A year ago, while he was cleaning up the creek, Mr. Haines was sprayed with a pressure hose by an employee of a company across the stream. The employee was later found guilty of battery and was fined.

Mr. Haines said he would withstand a drenching again for his cause.

His legacy, he hopes, will be a clean stream and clean drinking water.

"We need more people like Monroe Haines," wrote an admirer in 1991. "People that knew what it was like to lay on the ground and drink out of the streams."

Mr. Haines remembers. He used to play there.

"I'm watching to make sure what has been doesn't happen again," he said. "My stream is clearer now than it has been in 15 years. You can see I've straightened some things out."

That's why it's difficult for people such as Mr. Lippy and Mr. Slater and other officials to believe that Mr. Haines' fight is over.

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