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Moore, officials celebrate shipping channel reopening

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Moore, officials celebrate shipping channel reopening

Jun 12, 2024 | 9:18 pm ET
By Bryan P. Sears
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Moore, officials celebrate shipping channel reopening
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Salvage ships last week removed the last of the Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage from the Patapsco River, allowing for the reopening this week of the shipping channel to the Port of Baltimore. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Recovery efforts at the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse reached a new milestone Wednesday, as officials led by Gov. Wes Moore (D) celebrated the reopening of a shipping lane that restores full operations to the Port of Baltimore.

It comes 11 weeks after a heavy-laden cargo ship collided with the bridge. The resulting collapse killed six workers, cut off a vital link between the east and west banks of the Patapsco River and all but halted work at the port.

“We’re now thankful that this morning, we can tell you that three of the four objectives have really come to a measure of completion and frankly, in a speed that I think that people can and should be very proud of,” Moore said on a call with reporters.

In March, Moore said the state would focus on four priorities: Assisting the families of the six killed in the accident, including recovering their remains; supporting affected businesses, port workers and first responders; reopening the federal shipping channel; and rebuilding the bridge.

“By working together, we have achieved the first three of our four directives. But in this administration, we don’t settle for ‘almost.’ We finish the work we start,” Moore said during the event Wednesday afternoon at the port.

The reopening of the 700-foot-deep, 50-foot-wide shipping lane called the Fort McHenry Federal Channel clears the way for full operations to resume at the port.

The 47-year-old span over the Patapsco collapsed in the early hours of March 26. The Dali, a 978-foot cargo ship that weighs 95,000 tons when empty, lost power and ran into a bridge pier. The bridge collapsed within seconds, killing six of eight highway workers who were on the bridge at the time.

The incident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. It is also expected to be the subject of lengthy litigation between the state and the shipping company.

Moore and other officials said Wednesday that clearing the channel in less than three months did not seem probable in late March when steel trusses, concrete, asphalt and the Dali choked off the channel.

Salvage crews removed 50,000 tons of wreckage from the river, the final pieces last week. State officials said nearly all of the $60 million in emergency recovery funds allocated by the federal government after the collapse has been spent on clearing portions of the river outside the federal channel, including several shallower, alternate passages that allowed some ships into the port.

State and federal officials rushed financial aid to port workers and related businesses to prevent closures or mass layoffs.

And while the port was never completely closed, business has been affected. Roll-on, roll-off shipping traffic remains at precollapse levels, according to state officials, but container ships have had to be routed to other ports for the last three months. Officials expect it will take one to two months to return to previous levels.

“Over the next month, we are expecting 97 vessel calls with operations at preclosure levels by mid-July,” said Mark Schmidt, vice president and general manager of Ports America Chesapeake. The marine terminal operator said it expects business at the Baltimore port to return to previous levels.

Port officials told reporters Wednesday morning they are still trying to quantify the exact fiscal impact of the collapse on the port. And as they work to rebuild operations, Moore and federal officials say they are looking forward to a rebuild of the Key Bridge.

On the day of the collapse, President Joseph Biden promised full federal funding for a replacement. But a bill to fulfill that promise is currently stalled in Congress. If it does not pass, the federal government would pick up 90% of the project and leave the balance for Maryland officials.

“We can look out onto the Patapsco and see that the Dali is gone and the wreckage has been cleared,” Moore said. “I will not be satisfied until I can look out on the Patapsco River from this spot and see the Key Bridge standing tall again. That is the push. That is the promise. And by moving in partnership, we will make it reality.”