Some blame the heat. Others blame Roger B. Hayden.
Whatever the cause, there's no denying that black, gooey stuff is bubbling up on some northern Baltimore County rural back roads.
And it's a mess -- an unpleasant reminder of former County Executive Hayden's program last summer to resurface four times as many roads as usual.
"It's like riding in a sea of tar!" said Brooks Dei, a north county resident who has tried to organize neighbors to get some action.
"What Mr. Hayden's administration did was a complete waste of taxpayers money!" he said, adding that his road near Prettyboy Reservoir is heavily used by big trucks and needs regular asphalt paving, not just a chip and seal treatment.
Area residents have sharply differing views on the quality of Mr. Hayden's effort and his intentions. But Mr. Dei doesn't have to sell his new county councilman, a Hayden supporter during last year's election, on the depth of the problem.
Councilman T. Bryan McIntire said he got a shoe-full of the stuff on Fathers Day and was severely embarrassed after tracking it into 210-year-old West Liberty United Methodist Church, where he was attending a Boy Scout meeting.
"The whole road was shiny," he recalled. "It was so bad I couldn't cross the road without stepping in it. How would you like to have someone walk into your living room with tar on their feet?"
The county has agreed to pay for cleaning the church carpets and has redone the road, but pastor Linda A. Lewis said the tar is starting to seep to the surface again on hot afternoons.
"I've tried to drive around it, but there's no other way to get to the church. Whatever they used last summer is not good," she said.
Barton Mitchell, president of the Montgomery Construction Co., the company that did much of the work, said the problem is caused by the sustained high temperatures. "Ninety-eight percent of this is the heat wave," he said, adding that his company has been doing similar work since 1941.
He said the sticky stuff is not "tar," but an oil residue called "asphalt surface treatment liquid."
The ambitious road resurfacing effort that Mr. Hayden announced last summer became an issue in his re-election campaign. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who won the election, charged that the whole program was aimed at winning votes.
The plan was to use several different methods to resurface nearly 400 miles of county roadways, four times the normal amount, at a cost of $10.5 million.
That would help fix problems caused by weeks of icy weather over the winter of 1993-1994, and by years of neglect. Many of the north county rural roads listed to get new chip and seal surfaces hadn't been resurfaced for 10 to 20 years.
According to county highways chief C. Richard Moore, that's part of the current problem, which he described as a minimal one. "It's only bleeding in certain places," he said, estimating that 10 to 15 miles of the 125 miles resurfaced with chip and seal are affected.
"This is really not an exact science," he said, explaining that years of wear on the roads left some with too little stone base to absorb the new layer. Chip and seal is often used on lightly traveled roads and was the proper substance, he said.
His view is disputed by county highway workers union leader Edward M. Pedrick Jr., president of local 921 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who supported Mr. Ruppersberger in the election.
"This just wasn't done right," he said, contending that up to half the roads done last year must be redone this year.
"I think it was political," he said, charging that contractors hired by the county lacked experience and tried to do too much too quickly.
That's a view shared by Robert F. Webbert, president of the Baltimore County Highway Contractors Association, which also criticized the project last year.
Mr. Hayden said he had no political motive, only the desire to repair the extensive road damage from an icy winter. "The volume of roads was because of severe deterioration," he said, adding that limited funding prevented more extensive resurfacing on rural roads.
County public works Director Charles R. Olsen said about 20 percent of the work done last year is being redone this year.
Meanwhile, Kristen Sachs says her husband's spotless white Corvette sports car stays home to avoid tar and stone chipping problems. And she says she ruined a pair of shoes going out for a walk one day: "It was awful."