The Alexandria City Council voted last week to ask Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Potomac River channel from the Chesapeake Bay to Alexandria.

It was last dredged in 1967 by the corps, which is responsible for maintenance of the 24-foot-deep river channel.

"For years the . . . channel clearance in the Potomac River has been reduced by silting to a point where the depth of the channel is now less than 19 feet" at several points, said City Manager Vola Lawson in a Sept. 18 memo to the council.

"This means that many commercial ships can no longer reach Alexandria," Lawson said in the memo. " . . . We have already had larger cruise ships refuse to return to Alexandria because of the poor maintenance of the channel."

Harold Kanarek, a spokesman for the Baltimore District of the corps, said the dredging project is pending on local jurisdictions agreeing to provide dumping sites for the dredged material.

"Jurisdictions won't {have to} pay for the dredging but they might have to donate land for disposal sites {for dredged materials} and for construction of the site," which requires dikes to hold the mud in place, Kanarek said.

Kanarek said the dredged material can no longer be dumped in other parts of the river, as it has been with past dredging projects, because it would have a negative environmental impact on the river.

Alexandria officials estimate it would cost $8.7 million to do the dredging if the mud were deposited in the river, and up to $21.8 million if the mud were deposited on land. The corps would not confirm those estimates.

The corps is conducting two studies for the proposed dredging: one to determine the depth of the channel (to be completed in about four weeks) and another to determine the content of the silted materials and possible disposal sites (to take several months to a year). A corps spokesman said the project is pending on local jurisdictions agreeing to provide dumping sites for the dredged material.

The corps then will go to local jurisdictions that line the river and propose dumping sites. The corps would ask jurisdictions to donate land.

"The Baltimore harbor dredging project was held up almost 17 years because of the debate over the disposal sites" for dredged materials, Kanarek said. Funds for the project were approved in 1970 and it started this June.

In 1982, the corps surveyed the river for possible dredging, "but nothing was ever agreed on for the disposal so nothing ever came of the project," Kanarek said. It will take about two years to dredge the channel.