Environmental activist is honored BGE retiree donates cash award to firefighters

June 10, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

For the fourth time in five years, environmental watchdog Monroe G. Haines has been honored as a volunteer of the year by his fellow retirees from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

And as in the past, he's giving the money he won to his favorite volunteers -- Westminster Fire Department. His first-place award this year is $1,000. Since 1991, Haines has won $2,200 in BGE volunteer awards, all forwarded to the fire company.

"I had good luck and got an award," is how Haines sums up the evening of May 31, when hundreds of BGE retirees met for their annual banquet at Martin's West in Woodlawn. Haines worked for the utility for 22 years as a metalworker and general repairman.

For 10 years, Haines has vigilantly monitored Longwell Branch and another stream that feed the West Branch of the Patapsco River. He has worked independently, but sparked interest that led to a $505,000 stream restoration grant made up of state, county and federal money.

"My heart desires to have that cleaned up before I'm dead and gone," said Haines, who will be 74 in July.

He calls the river "my Patapsico," and started noticing pollution about a dozen years ago. On March 14, 1986, he said, he was running an errand and walked across the stream that runs along John Street. On his way back, the stream had risen noticeably, he said.

"I knew it didn't rain that much," he said. "I decided I got to take a hold of this."

He said he walked up the stream and noticed state highway workers degreasing and hosing down vehicles, with the water running into the stream.

Since then, he has regularly observed, kept records, called authorities and lobbied public officials. Two or three times a day, he watches agriculture and fuel businesses along John Street in Westminster, looking for signs of stream pollution, whether from solvents or bacteria produced by fertilizers.

Last fall, he camped across the street from Gary's Radiator Service to see whether the business was dumping pollutants in a nearby storm drain. While Mr. Haines was sitting in a swing at William Winchester Elementary School, watching the business with binoculars, a state police officer arrested him on a complaint of harassment.

The Carroll state's attorney's office dropped the charges, but not before police handcuffed Haines -- too tightly, he said. He also fell while trying to get out of the police cruiser and hurt his elbow. Haines said he still has problems with that arm.

Haines is no stranger to the BGE Community Volunteer Awareness Program. Over the past five years, he has won first-, second- and third-place awards, and now first place again.

"Can't be lucky all the time," he said. "I did get a drinking cup -- we all did -- a real nice one. Hot or cold."

But although he's won before, Haines said, the speech given by BGE supervisor Jim Files at the dinner this year and the thunderous applause and warm comments from fellow retirees touched him more than ever.

"[Files] gave a nice speech so that I almost had to cry when he was reading it off," Haines said. "They must have contacted everyone. They talked about the grant, and where I got roughed up and manhandled and mug-shot and locked up a few hours."

Haines said the work is frustrating. He sometimes feels like a broken record because the businesses that pollute continue, and he has to repeatedly report them. State and county agencies don't respond as much as he wants them to, and when they do, sometimes the businesses ignore the orders, he said.

"I feel like quitting, but after getting this award, it's hard to walk away from something," he said.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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