A Maryland Official Makes Waves—and a Splash—over a Bridge He Says Is a Boondoggle

updated 09/29/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/29/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In terms of public excitement, the ribbon cutting at a new bridge ranks about even with the christening of supertankers and the unveiling of civic monuments. But two weeks ago Thomas Flowers, 57, a Dorchester county commissioner, opened the $3.5 million Narrows Ferry Bridge on the eastern shore of Maryland and gave the ceremony unexpected new life. "Today we are gathered here to dedicate a bridge that is a monument to man's stupidity, a monument to man's waste," Flowers began his invocation, and suddenly a dead silence settled over the 35 officials and guests. For one and a half long minutes he continued in the same irreverent vein. "Our Great Creator and Father, bless this bridge," he concluded, "...knowing that wind and wave and tide are daily at work destroying that which has been built."

Understandably, the first reaction was astonishment. "I couldn't believe it," says William Wingate, president of the Dorchester county commissioners, who had asked Flowers to speak. "He should have expressed his opinion before." Other commissioners agree, saying Flowers supported the project all along. Nevertheless, in the next week reporters descended on Dorchester County in search of the impolitic but honest man, and Flowers, while admitting he chose an unfortunate moment to express his feelings, still believes his candor came better ate than never. He claims that the bridge, built for the 250 vehicles a day that pass between Hoopersville (pop. 200) and Fishing Creek (pop. 600), cost six times the original estimate—and he calls the result "overdesigned and too sophisticated."

Many residents still defend the bridge, but others have rallied behind "The Old Honker," the pseudonym Flowers uses for a column in the county's daily newspaper. Along with wife Fran and their three grown children, his most ardent supporters are his students at Sts. Peter and Paul High School in Easton, where he teaches history and democracy. To one of them, Genie Bauman, 15, daughter of Maryland Rep. Robert Bauman, Flowers' bridgemanship was gratifying proof he practices what he teaches. "I think it was great," she says. "That's what this whole country was founded on—the right to speak out."

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