District of Columbia officials hope to begin negotiations soon on a possible contract to dispose of Washington area sludge in the Caribbean island nation of Haiti.

An evaluation committee set up to screen proposals for disposing of the area's sludge has recommended a plan that would send the material by barge and ship to Haiti, where it would reportedly be converted into compost to aid in reforestation.

What to do with sludge -- the residue left by the processing of sewage -- has been one of the most difficult regional environmental problems in the Washington area for years.

The Blue Plaints sewage treatment plant operated by the District produces more than 1,200 tons of sludge daily. Most of it is buried in trenches or vacant land in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, but land is expensive and in short supply.

The proposal submitted by Stewart Environmental Systems, a New York-based firm, would cost "considerably less" than the $50 a ton now paid to bury the sludge, according to Robert S. McGarry, general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

McGarry called the Stewart proposal "very attractive" and said he write to District officials "urging them to pursue it further."

Of about two dozen responses to a request for proposals issued by the District's evaluation committee, the Stewart proposal "was the one the evaluation committee recommended" to city officials, McGarry added.

Calling sludge a valuable resource, McGarry said shipping it to Haiti would aid both the Washington area and the Haitian economy. Much of Haiti's fuel comes from timber grown there and converted into charcoal, he said.

Composted sludge could serve as a valuable substitute for more expensive petroleum-based fertilizers, he added.

A top official in the District's environmental services department said negotiations on the sludge plan have not yet begun, but "we'd like to start them as soon as we can."

Another city official indicated that the proposed destination of the sludge could influence the fate of the plan. "If it may create some problems for us," he said, "We're going to be sensitive to that"

Last year the city paid an additional $6 million to have sludge hauled from Blue Plains because Dano Resource Recovery Inc., of Alexandria, which was awarded the contract was unable to do the work.