Off the bow of the Patuxent II, a whirling auger scrapes years of accumulated muck from the bottom of Rock Creek.
Roaring in the stern, the barge's 365-horsepower diesel engines suck up the debris, beginning its two-mile journey to the disposal site off Tar's Cove.
"It picks up 99 percent of everything it stirs up," said Compton Wilson, owner of the Patuxent II and Southern Maryland Dredging Co., referring to the hydraulic dredge. "It moves about 70 cubic yards an hour or seven dump-truck loads."
The state and county are paying Southern Maryland about $1 million to dredge more than 2 feet of soft sediment and other pollutants from 4.6 acres of the creek's bottom --even while as many as 20 additional projects in the county could be stalled by the state's revenue crunch.
The Rock Creek project, which began Oct. 8, is about 65 percent complete, said Bob Regan, the head of dredging projects for the county Department of Public Works. Wilson is expected to complete the channel between Valley Road and the Pekin Road bridge by the end of the month.
County and state officials hope the experimental dredging will help eliminate the recurring rotten egg smell that has plagued the creek each summer for a dozen years. Officials say the smell is caused by hydrogen sulfide gas belched from the sediments on the bottom.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates dredging in U.S. waters, was reluctant to grant a permit unless it was scaled back from a plan that called for dredging a far greater area, including the headwaters. It also placed stricter requirements on the project than would otherwise be required to dredgea normal boating channel.
"As far as I know, this is the first permit the Army has issued for environmental purposes," said Wilson, who trucked his barge over land to dredge a coal-mine slurry in Indianalast winter. "This is an environmental job, so they did everything they could to protect the few aquatic plants actually growing down here."
The Army Corps had denied a request to dredge the headwaters above the Pekin Road bridge, but the state Department of the Environment has asked the corps to reconsider. If it responds before the end of the month, county officials say Wilson could continue dredging, saving the county and state the cost of bringing in equipment a second time.
The state budget crisis could delay other county dredging projects. The legislature already has cut $19 million in waterway improvement funds. In Anne Arundel County, that means at least 20 dredging projects will be delayed at least a year, said Bob Gaudette, directorof waterway improvement programs for the state Department of NaturalResources.
Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park, said state lawmakers and the County Council hope to recapture some of that money forprojects nearing completion, such as Marley and Cattail creeks.
"We always run the risk of losing that money entirely in the balancingbudget act," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park. "Fortunately, the progress on projects in Anne Arundel County is so advanced that we should get top priority."
The Army Corps is reviewing the Marley Creek project, which, if funded, could begin next year, Gaudettesaid. The county, which recently leased an 11-acre disposal site offEdwin Raynor Boulevard for debris from Cattail Creek, is ready to apply for state and federal permits on that project as well.