The idea of providing seaplane service from the Washington Channel to Maryland's Eastern Shore or Manhattan's East River, a flight of imagination that has created both enthusiasm and opposition, is sputtering from bureaucratic neglect.

Tom Rowan, owner of the Gangplank Marina and Restaurant, has been trying for two years to win approval from four government agencies to create a seaplane landing area in the channel. Under his plan, a strip of water would be designated for landings and takeoffs of commercial aircraft equipped with pontoons.

The single- and twin-engine airplanes, which seat up to about 12 passengers, could land in the mouth of the channel and taxi to the Gangplank dock where they would tie up to discharge and board passengers, according to his proposal.

But with a Jan. 1 deadline approaching and the government agencies divided over what to do, Rowan said last week he is losing hope. "You can only push the noodle so far," he said.

If the seaplane idea never gets off the water, that would be fine with several marina residents and local sailors who say they hate the idea of more air traffic and noise over the water. The channel parallels the heavily used commercial aircraft corridor to National Airport and serves as a helicopter flight route. Anxieties in the area were heightened Aug. 21 by the crash of a helicopter into the channel just off the Capital Yacht Club Marina; three helicopter passengers died.

"It sounds like a very harebrained idea, economically, morally and environmentally," said Tom Whitford, who lives in his boat just about 100 yards from the spot where the helicopter crashed and who jumped into the water that morning to help with the rescue effort. "It would be like landing an airplane on a playground."

"I think it's ridiculous," said John Bender, a sailor who kept his boat in the channel until recently. "It would benefit a very small number of people while putting a lot of other people at risk."

The proposed landing area runs along the center of the channel between East Potomac Park and Fort McNair, 4,500 feet long and 330 feet wide -- less than half the width of the channel.

Airplanes would radio the D.C. harbor master to request permission to land or take off. An aircraft would taxi about 600 feet to tie up at the Gangplank Marina's K Dock, just north of the restaurant, Rowan said.

The plans do not include construction of any facilities, such as an airplane fuel source, hangar, waiting lobby, parking lot or baggage area for travelers.

Seaplanes flown for private use can land in the channel already if they receive permission from the harbor master, but they are a rare sight, said D.C. Harbor Police Lt. Joseph Ruelas. A government-approved landing area would put the strip on official charts and allow commercial, passenger-carrying aircraft.

Rowan said he applied for the necessary government approvals after talking to two entrepreneurs who separately proposed offering passenger service from the site. One suggested shuttles to Manhattan, where 10 to 20 seaplanes a day land on the East River. The other envisioned an air taxi service to towns along the Chesapeake Bay and on the Delmarva peninsula, including Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach.

Neither promoter has detailed financial plans or estimates of how many flights would be offered, or the price.

Rowan has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the District government to approve the plan. So far, only the Corps of Engineers has said yes, Rowan said.

The FAA gave conditional approval for a "private seaplane base to be used by charter or taxi operations, and not by scheduled airlines," which in effect killed the idea of scheduled shuttle service to New York, he said.

However the FAA conditions are that Rowan obtain the permission of the Coast Guard and the District by Jan. 1. Failure to do so would cancel the FAA approval and thus would kill the entire scheme.

The Coast Guard published a request for public comments during the summer and received four letters in opposition, said Lt. Jeffrey Anderson. The agency wrote to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry Oct. 2 asking for the District's decision. The city has not responded, Anderson said.

Rowan said that he too has not heard from the District and that he doubts that the city can reach a decision before Jan. 1. No public hearings have been scheduled.

"If the city doesn't want it, then that's fine with me," Rowan said. "But I feel it would be a good thing for the city."

The city's office of business and economic development is handling the request, but no one was available to comment yesterday because the staff was away on a retreat, a spokeswoman said.

"I think it would be kind of neat," said Bud Soucy, who lives on a boat in the channel and flies a Cessna 185 Amphibian, equipped with pontoons for water landings and retractable wheels for use on the ground. "You could leave DOT {the Department of Transportation building in Southwest Washington} for a 10-minute walk to the airplane . . . and be in Easton in 20 minutes."