A dredge boat could begin excavating polluted soils from the headwaters of Rock Creek by Monday if federal regulators accept a compromiseendorsed yesterday by U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen.
Compton Wilson, owner of Southern Maryland Dredging Co., said he must begin digging soonif he is to complete the experimental dredge before spawning season begins in March.
Yesterday, after receiving pledges from state and county officials to do more extensive environmental restoration if needed later, theArmy Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencysaid they may approve the dredging as early as Feb. 10.
State andcounty officials sought permission last fall to remove sulfur-rich sediments from Rock Creek above the Pekin Road Bridge, since a contractor was already nearby, dredging below the bridge.
The county and state have spent $1.4 million to restore lower areas of the creek.
"Rock Creek is a testing ground, a laboratory of sorts to see if dredging can be used to help improve water quality," said John Goheen, aMaryland Department of the Environment spokesman.
But approval ofdredging in the headwaters has been delayed while the state Department of the Environment haggled with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies over the project's scope and cost.
Chief among the snags, federal officials want the state and county to back-fill the creek and create a clean, sandy bottom.
Army engineers worried that if the creek were dredgedwithout backfilling, then the banks could collapse, slide into the hole and wipe away any environmental gains of dredging, said Tom Filip, assistant chief of the Army's regulatory branch.
The state wouldrather see if dredging can restore the creek without re-filling.
Goheen said the federal plan would cost about $500,000, which is morethan the state has available and is willing to risk on a "demonstration project."
The state has about $300,000 available, he said.
Although Goheen said last week that negotiations had reached an impasse and the request for approval would be withdrawn, MDE officials were more optimistic yesterday after meeting with federal officials at McMillen's Pasadena office.
During the meeting, federal regulators said they would consider allowing the county and state to test a less-extensive, cheaper plan in exchange for pledges to do the additionalwork if needed later.
"If the federal agencies agree to do this in a phased approach, then the project may be resurrected," said Michael Haire, administrator of MDE's Chesapeake Bay and Special Programs division.