Mikulski accuses Republican opponent of distorting her record on dumping issue

Democratic senator responds to TV campaign ad by Pipkin

October 09, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski accused her Republican opponent yesterday of a gross distortion of her record in a commercial suggesting that she condoned harmful dredge dumping in the Chesapeake Bay.

The television commercial from state Sen. E.J. Pipkin's campaign mentions declines in the population of oysters, crabs and bay grasses, and says Mikulski refused to help stop dredge-dumping at a site near Kent Island in 1999. Pipkin, then a community activist, lobbied to stop the dumping.

"The charges are not only absurd, but they're totally wrong," said Mikulski campaign spokesman Mike Morrill. "It's directly the opposite of what happened."

Pipkin stood by his ad yesterday, saying, "Any suggestion that Barbara Mikulski did anything to stop open bay dumping is a boldfaced lie."

Mikulski, a Democrat, could have supported a provision that Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrist, a 1st District Republican, inserted in an energy bill to stop the dumping, or she could have called on the Army Corps of Engineers to find another site, but she didn't, Pipkin said.

The once-quiet challenge by the underdog first-term state senator from the Eastern Shore has become increasingly acrimonious in recent days, as Pipkin, a former junk-bond trader, has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into the race, funding a series of attack ads against Mikulski.

The latest ad flashes a headline from The Sun of Nov. 7, 1999, that reads "Md. Democrats under fire for backing dumping in bay; Conservationists fear harm from dredge spoil." Environmentalists were fighting the dumping of silt dredged from shipping channels at the site near Kent County, called Site 104.

But the text of the article says that conservationists thought Mikulski had done the most of any member of the state congressional delegation. A few months before, she wrote a letter to the Corps of Engineers saying it "bungled" a study of whether the dumping was safe.

A meeting

Mary P. Marsh, then legislative chairwoman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said she attended a meeting with Pipkin and Mikulski's staff to discuss the dredging issue.

"So I wouldn't say she didn't do anything. I would say, in fact, that some of the things she did were to make sure that things were getting done the proper way and according to how the Environmental Policy Act called for them to go through," Marsh said.

Patrick T. Welsh, a former state senator from Dundalk who worked with Pipkin to stop the dumping, said Mikulski should have done more than complain to the Corps about its study.

Welsh said he attended a Queen Anne's County commissioners meeting with Mikulski in 1999 and asked her to use the influence of her office to stop the project, but that she refused, saying she wanted to wait for the Corps to complete the study.

"Basically, she was on the side of supporting the Maryland Port Administration in doing this," he said. "That's who she sided with."

Then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening agreed to stop the dumping at Site 104 in 2001.

Mikulski's campaign issued a detailed rebuttal of Pipkin's ad yesterday, noting her efforts over the years to address problems in the Chesapeake Bay, such as helping secure $5.5 million for research on blue crabs, $12 million for research on disease resistant oysters, $18 million for new reefs and reseeding of oyster beds and $44.75 million for upgraded water and sewer systems in Maryland.

Russell Dize, a waterman from Tilghman, said Mikulski has been a friend to those who make their living on the water.

Record with watermen

"She's always helped us with everything," he said. "Anything she can do to help us, she does. ... Her record's good with watermen."

In promoting his opposition to Site 104, Pipkin also highlights a position that puts him at odds with one of Maryland's most prominent Republicans, former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.

Bentley, a longtime advocate for the port of Baltimore, said Pipkin's successful opposition to the site will be "one of the most expensive losses to the state of Maryland we've ever had" because of the increased cost of finding other places to dump spoils. Site 104 would have cost about $2.75 a cubic yard, but a new site will likely cost $35 to $70 a cubic yard, she said.

"The taxpayers are going to have to pay for it," Bentley said. "It should not have been stopped."

Pipkin called Bentley's comments "off-base."

"I took three years of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars in my own money and put together a grass-roots organization that fought Helen Bentley and Governor Glendening and turned around this project and stopped it," he said.

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