Lin and Thomas Wallander aren't sure they want to pay several thousand dollars to dig a private channel from their home to a canal through Marley Creek.
But they're willing to apply for the permit if itwould persuade the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve dredging the fouled creek.
The Wallanders and their neighbors have fought for years to have the smelly muck on the creek bottom cleared out. But they learned in November that the Corps will not grant a dredging permit for environmental reasons.
The decision shocked and angered more than 50 Marley Creek residents who have complained that the buildup reeks during the summer.
Last week the county pitched dredging the creek for recreational boating as an alternative.
Robert B. Regan, a civil engineer with the Public Works Department's watershed management division, urged homeowners Thursday night to seek individual dredging permitsto boost the county's case.
During a meeting with homeowners and elected officials, Regan said he hopes a deluge of applications will prompt the federal agency to permit dredging to "improve navigable access."
The county already submitted a proposal to the Corps calling for clearing a canal 3,900 feet long and 75 feet wide. The area would be dredged 5 feet below the average water level at low tide.
Regan recommended that "anybody who remotely thinks they'll use the channel should submit a permit application."
Federal agencies -- suchas the Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service -- have discouraged dredging shallow creeks because the work disturbs the environment, Regan said. Unless homeowners indicate they would use a dredged canal, those agencies are likely to vote against the project.
"They want to see how many people will use spur channels to judge if the project is justified or not justified,"he told the crowd at Point Pleasant Elementary.
Regan handed out applications, along with a sample form showing residents how to seek a dredging permit. Most spur channels are cleared 125 feet long and 15 feet wide. Depending on how deep the channel is dredged, the work can cost $1,630 to $9,174 or more. The longest channel, 250 feet long,25 feet wide and 3 feet deep, would cost $18,326.
But Regan warned the cost of dredging a private channel could double once the countyfinishes its project. If homeowners hook into the larger project andreceive hydraulic dredging, they will spend much less than if they clear a channel mechanically later.
The county has negotiated a dump site with CSX Realty, a Howard County company planning to build a 2,272-unit community on the banks of Marley Creek. CSX has promised to set aside 10 acres at Marley Neck Boulevard and Marley Neck Road.
The only hitch is whether the Corps will approve dredging the creekfor boating.
"If you're looking at dredging a creek strictly for navigation purposes, you look at more than spur channels," Corps spokesman Harold Clingerman said. "We have to look at the environmental impact and whether there really is a need for deepening it."
He said the agency still might approve dredging Marley Creek for environmental reasons -- if the county proves that clearing out muck will end noxious odors. The county was asked to monitor Wall Cove after dredging to see if the odors are stopped, he said.
But the county is justnow awarding the contract for dredging Wall Cove. Regan also disputed that the Corps would grant an environmental permit.
"Marley Creek is now a recreational boating project," he said.
Several Marley Creek homeowners were annoyed when Regan explained the environmental reasoning against dredging shallow creeks. One resident angrily
pointed out that the creek used to be deep until development in the area created heavy erosion.
Regan said the county plans to study the problem with the state Department of the Environment. He admitted the environmental study is likely to start before the dredging project.
Even if the Corps is persuaded by a flood of applications, getting approval for the project could take 21 months, he said.
Fed up with the stench, most of the homeowners agreed Thursday night to seek individual dredging permits, even if they're unsure whether they would use them. Many said they were willing to try anything to clean the creek.
"If it doesn't get done, it's just going to silt up more," Wallander said.
"It's just going to get worse."