A slurry of sand churned the headwaters of Rock Creek yesterday as adredging contractor began to replace the malodorous muck that has plagued the tributary for 14 years with a new, sandy bottom.
What should have been a monumental victory for a handful of residents who pushed county, state and federal bureaucracies for nearly a decade to clean up the creek instead left them fuming on the Pekin Road Bridge.
"This is the worst environmental disaster ever to hit the creek,"said Linda Dooley, who lives on the headwaters, between the Pekin and Fort Smallwood Road bridges.
Dooley and her colleagues want the sand dumping stopped. They say they fear the sand, taken from a former horse farm off Fort Smallwood Road, is contaminated with bacteria and hazardous chemicals dumped clandestinely on the property over the years.
Besides, they say, the new sandy bottom will lower the water level, leaving it too shallow to bring back the small boats they remember coming and going 20 to 30 years ago.
"There is something wrong when property owners must choose between health concerns and riparian rights," said Brenda Jann, whose mother, Mary Ackers, lives on the water above the Pekin Bridge. "That's not the way it was when we moved here."
Ackers said, "I want access to the water. I don't wanta beachfront."
Compton Wilson, owner of Southern Maryland Dredging, said his dredge boats have removed 14,500 cubic yards of organic-rich soil, which experts believe has produced the nauseating hydrogen sulfide gases from the creek bottom. The dredging left the creek bed about seven feet lower.
Under the dredging permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, Wilson has until April 15 to replace the polluted soil with 11,000 cubic yards of sand, raising the bottom within two feet of the water level at low tide. Corps officials believe the sandy bottom will create a natural ecosystem, cultivating the growth of underwater grasses, which replenish the creek with oxygen.
The backfilling began last week. As of yesterday, about 1,500 cubic yards,or 150 dump-truck loads, of sand had been deposited, said Bob Freeland, construction inspector for the county Department of Public Works,which is supervising the $300,000 project.
Anne Seiling, a PublicWorks Department spokeswoman, said county tests showed that the sandmet federal and state standards.
But, the residents are not satisfied. Darlene Schepleng, whose Water Oak Point Road home sits near the horse farm, said residents do not want the creek to be a guinea pigfor experimental backfilling. She said they want to see comprehensive studies verifying the quality of the sand and that backfilling willactually improve the water.
State and county officials have acknowledged that Rock Creek is being used as a "laboratory" to determine how to best restore small tributaries, polluted by urban runoff and erosion.
The county and state have spent $1.4 million since 1988 dredging and aerating the water below the Fort Smallwood Road Bridge. Future dredging of Whites and Tar coves to remove the polluted soils depends on the success of efforts to restore water quality in the headwaters.