George M. Staples III, 79, engineer who helped design recycling plant

April 08, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

George McLellan Staples III, a retired chemical and environmental engineer who raised Eastern Shore oysters artificially nearly 50 years ago and later helped design Baltimore's Russell Street trash recycling plant, died of cancer April 1 at his Ocean Pines home. The former Homeland resident was 79.

A consultant and senior science adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency, he supervised the writing of parts of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as the Superfund, passed by Congress in 1980.

Born in Chicago and raised in Louisville, Ky., he earned an engineering degree from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., and a master's from Columbia University. He joined the Navy and served aboard destroyer escorts in the Pacific during World War II.

He was a DuPont engineer in Louisville before moving to the Eastern Shore in January 1955. He had just acquired the three-masted schooner Edward R. Baird Jr., built in 1903, from the Worcester Fertilizer Co.

According to accounts in The Evening Sun, Mr. Staples wanted to use the vessel to haul cargo, but needed to sail it to Baltimore for overhauling and inspection. Unaware that Hurricane Ione was approaching, he left the Eastern Shore with a crew of several art student friends and his mother aboard.

The Baird sank in Tangier Sound after the Coast Guard tried to tow it to safety, but all hands were saved. The vessel's three masts and rigging remained visible and were later the subject of a photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine called "Cradle of the Deep."

Two years later, Mr. Staples read reports on oysters being raised artificially in Asia and Europe and decided to dig oyster-growing mud ponds at his mother's farm, Lavalettes, outside Crisfield. He called his venture Osprey Fisheries.

"We are trying to do for the oyster what the chicken industry did for the chicken," he told a Sun reporter in 1967.

But his ponds never became a commercial success. He also devised an oyster and clam shucker that still sits, unused, in a warehouse.

"He had some success, but he was not business-savvy," said daughter Victoria S. Shequine of Baltimore. "He loved the Chesapeake Bay and was always experimenting. He was years ahead of his time."

Mr. Staples worked for Wayne Pump and National Cash Register Corp. on the Eastern Shore before moving to Baltimore about 35 years ago.

As an engineer for Green Associates in Towson and Hittman Associates in Columbia, he worked on water-control and environmental issues related to the Jones Falls Expressway and the second Bay Bridge. He also helped design the city's pyrolysis plant on Russell Street, as well as recycling plants in Timonium, Salisbury and Rockville.

He was an Army Corps of Engineers consultant on spoils disposal at Hart-Miller Island.

"He was a brilliant man. He was considered a major national expert in the water-treatment field," said Craig Adams, a friend and business associate from Chesapeake, Va. "He was a real people's engineer. He had no tolerance with bureaucrats whom he felt were responsible for a lot of the pollution in the world."

"He was vitally interested in public health," said Vernon Jones, a friend who lives in Snow Hill. "He was an environmentalist and scientist, but was not a tree-hugger. He clearly saw how Chesapeake Bay pollution was destroying the oysters. He felt that any water that came out of a sewage treatment plant should be so clean you could drink it."

Services were held Monday in Selbyville, Del.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of nearly 10 years, the former Margaret Jeanne Kolb; another daughter, Mary S. McCoy of Centreville; three stepsons, John Clark Gavin of Santa Rosa, Calif., and George Strott and Stephen Strott, both of Salisbury; two stepdaughters, Liz G. MacFarlane and Andrea Strott Travis, both of Salisbury; a brother, Allen Alford Staples of Louisville, Ky.; a sister, Alice S. Gigax of Washington; and 11 grandchildren.

His wife of 31 years, Betty Gavin Staples, died in 1992. A stepson, William W. Gavin, died in 1999. Another marriage, to Phebe Wood Staples, ended in divorce.

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