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The Port of Baltimore’s main channel is expected to fully reopen soon. Here’s what needs to happen first

BALTIMORE — Patapsco River crews continue to cut and lift large pieces of what remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge as they prepare the way to restore the full 700-foot-wide channel leading to Baltimore Harbor.

While larger ships have recently been able to move cargo in and out of the port through a limited-access canal, heavier transports are needed to restore normal traffic.

The Army Corps of Engineers now expects the Federal Range to be open no later than June 10, a goal slightly later than its original schedule of late May.

Millions of pounds of steel and concrete from the bridge were still in the river at the end of May. The latest estimate — based on surveys conducted after crews moved the Dali, the cargo ship that hit the Key Bridge on March 26 — takes into account the “complexity of cutting and rigging,” ensuring measures are in place safety and the possibility of bad weather. » declared the corps.

Here’s what needs to happen before the channel fully reopens.

A lot of work

The biggest obstacle for rescue teams is the 10 million pound span of the Key Bridge which blocked the Dali for 55 days.

Only about a third of what remains of “Section 4”, the large pieces of steel truss that collapsed on top of the ship and remained in the water, is visible above the waterline, said Cynthia Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the state Army Corps. Baltimore Engineers District.

Crews are removing this truss section by cutting it into three pieces which will be removed using the massive Chesapeake 1000 crane. The first piece, a 140-ton steel section, was removed on May 24. Crews were cutting the second piece of the third and final section Friday.

Weather conditions, which have previously scrambled rescue plans, are only expected to cooperate for a little while. After a mostly sunny weekend, the National Weather Service is forecasting a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms in Dundalk on Monday. Tuesday should be partly sunny, but risks of showers and thunderstorms are expected overnight from Tuesday to Friday.

Pick up the leftovers

Once these three large sections are cleared, crews will still need to remove excess steel and the platform out of the water, including the wreckage below the mud line, according to Mitchell.

In addition to what broke and fell into the Patapsco River on March 26, several small pieces of steel were also thrown into the water when crews used explosives to break up the piece of truss laying on the bow of the Dali.

“Gus,” a huge hydraulic salvage dumpster that arrived in Baltimore in April to help with salvage operations, excels at picking up debris.

The Dutch-made four-claw set is designed to support up to 1,000 metric tons, according to its manufacturer, The Grab Specialist. When the claws arrived in Baltimore from Galveston, Texas, in late April, a spokesperson for Key Bridge Response Unified Command said they were expected to be a “vital part” of underground debris removal operations.

The claws were notably used during the rescue operations of the Golden Ray, a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship that capsized near Georgia in 2019 while heading to the port of Baltimore. The 200-ton hydraulic skip was able to pick up 20 vehicles at a time.

Mechanical dredging buckets are also being used to do “obstruction removal” in the wreck area, Mitchell said. Dredging is needed to recover an estimated total of 60,000 to 70,000 cubic yards of displaced material — sediment and debris — from the Federal Canal, she said. The debris will be taken to a solid waste processing facility, and the remaining materials will be mixed with cement and transported by dump trucks to disposal sites in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Final checks

Before reopening the entire canal, crews will conduct final surveys to ensure there is no more problematic debris.

Unified Command teams conducted dive surveys combined with sonar imagery throughout their response to assess the mangled wreckage, some of which sank below the mud line.

Crews will need to conduct more surveys to “identify remaining hot spots from the wrecks and ensure no steel is left behind” before the canal is fully reopened, Mitchell said.

Will the port be ready?

As crews continue to clear debris from the canal, the Biden-Harris administration’s Supply Chain Disruption Task Force is preparing for the Port of Baltimore to fully resume operations.

The task force — established in 2021 to monitor and address supply chain challenges — met several times after the bridge collapse to coordinate the administration’s response to the port closure and its impact on the supply chain.

At a National Economic Council meeting Thursday, agencies worked to proactively identify any pre-existing logistical or operational challenges that shippers, businesses and ocean carriers may encounter before the port reopens.

Officials from the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation discussed coordination efforts with port operators and food producers as shipping routes and schedules return to Baltimore. As maritime activity increases, transportation officials, truckers and port operators have worked together to ensure the port, as well as the surrounding Baltimore region, is prepared to handle increased traffic, according to a release from White House Press.

Thursday’s meeting follows Gov. Wes Moore’s meeting with President Joe Biden in late May to discuss progress in fully reopening the Federal Canal after the Dali returns to port.

Biden emphasized his commitment to helping Baltimore recover and clearing the canal. With the recent clearance of debris, the first container ship since the collapse is expected to arrive during the first week of June.



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