City panel OKs $500,000 for legal fees; Money will be spent on expenses in lawsuit


In a move to settle legal expenses from a federal lawsuit against the city, Baltimore's Board of Estimates approved a budget request yesterday that brings the total cost of private attorneys' fees in the case to $800,000.

The city Law Department asked for $500,000 to settle expenses in a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment, which filed a complaint against the city two years ago over excessive dumping at the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant and Ashburton Water Filtration Plant.

The board had approved $300,000 in legal fees for the case. The Law Department said the additional money is needed because some of the legal services have been performed. A consent decree has been proposed, but the case is not closed.

City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson said the legal fees have been a wise investment because the EPA and state Department of the Environment were suing the city for $72 million for environmental violations.

In another matter, the city reached an agreement with the private Waldorf School for public use of a library and a gymnasium on the school's property in the 4800 block of Tamarind Road.

The school is developing part of the site, which was purchased from the city for $1, to build a 99-unit housing complex for senior citizens. The project is expected to yield a $1 million profit.

Anthony J. Ambridge, the city real estate officer, raised questions about the deal because he said he believed the city should share in the profits.

But the decision to allow community use of a library and a gymnasium at the site appears to have allayed Ambridge's concerns.

"We concur with their recommendations," Ambridge told the board.

The board also rejected proposals for 40 outdoor pay telephones because of concern that they would provide support for the illegal drug trade.

Telephone company officials argued that the telephones should not be blamed for the city's drug problem.

"They're similar to the issue of guns and gun manufacturers," said Richard M. McMahon Sr., an attorney for Belle Farm Estates, one of the phone companies making a request to the board. "They're taking the rap."

In response, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke asked, "Is that to suggest that phones don't call people; people call people?"

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said the city must take the necessary steps to stop Baltimore's drug problem.

"I think this is really a victory for Baltimore City and the communities," Bell said.

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