Baltimore Navigation Canal fully restored after massive cleanup

After a colossal cleanup effort, federal and state authorities on Monday fully reopened the main shipping channel to the Port of Baltimore, transforming a site of ferocious destruction into a symbol of resilience after an errant container ship brought down the bridge Francis Scott Key in March and killed six workers.

Officials restored the Federal Canal to its original width of 700 feet and depth of 50 feet, providing a moment of hope after a painful period in Baltimore.

“Once again, Baltimore has been counted out,” Mayor Brandon Scott (D) said in an interview. “And once again, Baltimore has proven the world wrong.”

The disruption caused by the March 26 bridge collapse cost the Baltimore area economy about $1.2 billion, said Anirban Basu, an economist at Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore-based consulting firm. This takes into account a sharp decline in port activity immediately after the disaster and more moderate losses from smaller canals that kept a reduced amount of goods moving – as well as any expenses related to cleaning up the canal itself.

It wasn’t easy to get here. Multiple levels of government and the private sector carried out this major cleanup operation and avoided a prolonged supply chain nightmare.

“When we work together, we can truly accomplish great things,” the Maryland governor said. Wes Moore (Democrat) said in an interview Friday, adding that some early estimates indicated that fully restoring the chain could take six months to a year. It ended up lasting 11 weeks.

As he stood grieving in the first hours after the disaster, hugging Moore at Fort Armistead Park, Scott had no idea the park could be reopened so quickly.

He credited a partnership that included Moore, President Biden, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and officials from federal, state, county and city governments.

Unlike previous disasters, such as when then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had to “beg the federal government for help” after Hurricane Katrina, there was no disconnect after the bridge fell, he said. Scott said.

“When we talk about political animals, so to speak, people get very territorial. People are focusing a lot on the impact this could have on them“Scott said. But in this case, no one was demagogy, he said. “I would venture to say that this is probably the first time in American history that this has not happened.”

Instead, the Army Corps leveraged an existing agreement with the Navy’s Salvage and Diving Supervisor, which specializes in responding to maritime emergencies, to call in massive barges, cranes and crews. expert contractors to remove £100 million of wreckage from the Patapsco Bridge.

After studying the dangerous underwater conditions, crews began removing the wreckage from the bridge on March 30. Alongside the Coast Guard, Maryland specialist divers and other rescue teams completed a series of rapid steps. They opened temporary or limited channels for ships with shallow drafts and then for larger ones; launching a barrage of controlled explosions to free the container ship Dali from the bridge it had destroyed, allowing a partial reopening of the canal to large ships; And on June 4, the last major steel section of the bridge was pulled out of the water. The state hopes to rebuild the bridge by 2028.

The overall economic effects were less severe than initially feared, said Daraius Irani, chief economist at Towson University’s Institute for Regional Economic Studies. The announcement of the rapid reopening of the full canal provided a “light at the end of the tunnel” for many businesses, he said. But Irani said transportation problems resulting from the loss of the bridge will continue to cause logistical disruptions.

Maryland employment officials said that as of early June, a state-run worker retention program saved more than 3,000 jobs through grants to companies that pledged not to lay off workers. workers for two months. But they said the disaster’s effects on full employment were still to be seen.

The latest available Maryland employment report, for April, showed a decline of 1,000 jobs in the transportation, warehouse and utility sector, that is, the number of jobs classified as the port. Some of those losses could have been reversed later through the retention program, state officials said. Overall, Maryland added 7,800 jobs that month.

Biden had asked administration officials to use “every lever possible” to speed reopening and was briefed on the efforts by senior Army Corps and Coast Guard officials, said Natalie Quillian, chief of staff. Deputy White House Staff.

Quillian, who led coordination for the White House after the bridge collapse, said reopening the full canal “just shows the strength and power of what we can do at the federal level, at the state level, at the local level. we are pulling together all our resources and doing it well.

The effects of reopening will be felt throughout the national economy and well beyond America’s borders.

This will allow Companies are expected to resume transporting massive shipments of cars, tractors, containers and bulk materials – such as coal – through Baltimore, as they did before the Dali lost power and veered off course. path.

Many large ships had already started returning since authorities transferred the Dali to port on May 20, allowing them to open a limited channel 400 feet wide to a total depth of 50 feet.

Maryland port officials said Monday’s full reopening — originally planned for late May but delayed by the complexities of cutting and removing the final pieces of the bridge — would speed the port’s recovery.

Officials said the fully operational canal once again allows two-way traffic and removes additional safety measures put in place when it was smaller than normal. Crews will continue to examine and remove steel debris “at and below the 50-foot mud line…to ensure future dredging operations are not affected,” officials said of recovery in a press release.

“Baltimore is back,” said Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the Maryland Port Authority. “Any cargo, any movement, any schedule – our terminal operators are in place to be able to accommodate these vessels. Labor is available. The port is fully open for trade as it was before the incident.

But it will take time for businesses to return to Baltimore, logistics experts said — and some may never do so.

Port developers argue that all the reasons the port was attractive before the Dali disaster still apply, including the vastness of the local market it serves. They note that the contents of 70 percent of all containers entering the port are consumed within a 70-mile radius and that the port serves as a gateway to the Upper Midwest and elsewhere.

But Daniels also acknowledged pressure from competitors.

“You don’t want a temporary change to become a long-term determination that another gateway is better,” Daniels said. He estimates that full recovery will occur in 2025.

Companies like Mitsubishi Motors North America offer hope.

Baltimore is a key portal for Mitsubishi cars manufactured in Japan and Thailand. After Dali’s accident, Mitsubishi had to divert some of its cars to the Port of Wilmington, Del., and then truck them to the company’s facilities at the Port of Baltimore, where accessories such as Floor mats and strips are added.

Mitsubishi began returning ships to its usual facilities on May 25. “We plan to resume operations essentially where we left off,” said Jeremy Barnes, a company spokesman.

Jobs loading and unloading goods are up compared to the weeks after the Dali crash, but still lagging.

Scott Cowan, president of Baltimore Harbor International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333, said that at its worst, between 1,900 and 2,000 of his union’s 2,400 members were unemployed.

“More than 50 percent of the workforce is back to work, so that’s moving in the right direction,” Cowan said.

The resumption of activity has already worsened congestion problems.

Dan Ryan, Mazda’s vice president of government and public affairs, said it was still our “intent and hope” to remain at the port, provided the canal could reopen quickly. Still, the absence of the Key Bridge has caused delays in getting trucks to the port and to dealerships, he said.

Today, with the reopening of the canal but the disappearance of the bridge, it is clear to what extent the resumption of maritime traffic will exacerbate traffic on the roads.

“It’s definitely an open question for us,” Ryan said.

Leave a Comment