Suburban Maryland businesses and government offices, professing considerable confusion about the rules, responded in checkerboard fashion yesterday to mandatory closing regulations during the water crisis.
Several of the 270 businesses in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties complained that they didn't know what to do about closing down and some, as a result, did not. Visits by police prompted many of them to close subsequently.
The lifing of the mandatory restrictions yesterday at 5 p.m. ended the problem for many, although voluntary closings are still requested by county officials.
Officials of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission said they were unable to explain fully the mandatory regulations to the businesses and government offices because they were swamped with telephone calls from private citizens with water probtions during their visits to businesses lems.
Police issued no citations for viola-yesterday. However, in a least one confrontation, the manager of Montgomery Ward on Branch Avenue in Prince George's refused to halt business for the day at police request. The mandatory closing ban was modified before WSSC workers arrived to shut of Ward's water.
The off-again. on-again closing policy left workers and supervisors frequently making their own decisions. or relying on newspapers. radio and television for instructions. Mineral Pigments Corp. in Beltsville. for example. curtailed 90 per cent of its water usage voluntarily. Brook Manor Country Club opened, knowing it was on WSSC's closing list by billing error. then was visited by police and told to close. The Coco Cola bottling plant in Silver Spring halted production and put the staff on maintenance work for the day.
"It's been hectic." said a personnel spokesman at Scars. Roebuck and Co.'s White Oak store. First. workers were called and told not to come to work. Some showed up anyway and were sent home. When the closing ban was lifted early afternoon. "we had to call them frantically" for reopening at 5 p.m., she said.
"Nonessential" federal. state and local offices were requested to close for the day. but the definition of "essential" was left up to the agencies themselves. Most shut down. including nearly all county offices, but three federal installations opened. then closed abruptly at noon.
The 3,600 employees at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt were informed they oculd take Friday off as a contribution to a water crisis coulution so long as they subtracted the day from their leave time.
Many NASA workers did not stay at home. because. as one explained: "It seemed to some of us that the only way to really save water was to close the place altogether, not leave it up to individuals."
Goddard. the National Naval Medical Research Institute and the Naval Surface Weapons center in White Oak sent home employees in noncritical areas at noon. The National Naval Medical Center halted operations in nonpatient areas. and patients ate from paper plates.
To enforce the closing regulations. Prince George's police deployed 20 special operations officers to visit businesses listed by WSSC as users of 15,000 gallons of water daily. and Montgomery police surveyed these firms as part of routine rounds.
Montgomery police received numerous complaints about individuals watering their lawns. "We answered the complaints," said a police spokesman. "but we didn't have personnel driving through subdivisions looking for violators."
Prince George's and Montgomery County executives ordered county administration buildings. community colleges. libraries and recreational sites closed.
The city of Rockville. which has its own water supply, urged users of more than 15.000 gallons of water daily to voluntarily "cut back." according to a spokesman. Between Wednesday and Thursday. voluntarily curtailment by Rockville resre by 30 per cent.
Many workers in the area complained about the "inequity" of the regulations. "Personally. the way it worked out. it seemed very discriminatory." said a Sears employee while his store was closed.
WSSC's Bill Austin, who was charged with administering the emergency regulations. told complainants he had to follow orders.
Austin did make some exceptions. The Mormon Temple in Kensington. where faithful are married "for eternity" in a special closed ceremony. asked for a dispensation since participants traveled from across the eastern U.S. for the occasion. Austin recomputed his figures, found they applied only to last year and tallied a new total. The Mormons were back in business.