Companies, community discuss offer

Wagner's Point residents, chemical plants meet to address relocation money

June 15, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Louise Regiec and Andy Skrzecz sat silently a seat apart in a Brooklyn catering hall last night, their lips pursed, as two chemical plant managers in blue sport coats pleasantly spelled out the formula for the price of the spouses they recently lost:

$5,000, the managers said. $5,000 for every man, woman and child who lived last year in Wagner's Point.

For more than a year, residents have asked the chemical plants that ring their tiny southern Baltimore neighborhood for money -- any money -- to help them escape the foul-smelling air and the suspicious cancer cases of the Fairfield Peninsula. They did not want to make a legal stink or seek justice, they said; they would eschew high-priced lawyers in exchange for some help.

But now that two plants, the herbicide maker FMC Corp. and detergent ingredient producer Condea Vista, have actually made a financial offer, longtime homeowners such as Regiec and Skrzecz appear to be having second thoughts.

Last night's meeting at Councill's Restaurant on Patapsco Avenue, attended by about 100 people, gave residents their first opportunity to criticize the offer, which was first made public last week.

During and after the meeting, residents noted that the money -- $5,000 for every man, woman and child -- is not tax free. They wondered why the companies were insisting that the money was contingent on their right to sue. And how, they asked, could companies even think of putting such a price, any price, on the priceless, the loss of Jeannette Skrzecz and John Regiec and other relatives whose deaths they blame on the proximity of their homes to so many chemicals?

Once dismissive of lawyers, a half-dozen residents are now represented by four attorneys: two professors from the University of Maryland Law School, plaintiff's attorney Peter G. Angelos, and a Towson real estate lawyer who is challenging city appraisals of their homes.

"They're crazy if they think we're going to accept this," says Richard Rotosky, whose sister, Doris Meeker, died mysteriously in 1996. "All I can say is I'm looking forward to my free consultation with Mr. Angelos."

Whether such statements represent a calculated negotiating tactic or an emotional change of heart was hard to say. Chemical companies say this is the best that they, as businessmen, could responsibly offer, and that they expect some people to take the money and others to refuse it.

FMC and Condea Vista already have hired a firm to administer a relocation program. John Mitchell, a vice president with Prudential Community Interaction Consulting, told residents that a trailer to assist with the relocation of the neighborhood is scheduled to open next week, and a phone number is already active: 410-354-4177.

Anyone who lived in Wagner's Point or two nearby communities -- Fairfield and the Heights -- between April 1, 1998, and April 1, 1999, will be eligible. The deadline to accept the offer is October 4.

Pub Date: 6/15/99

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