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Final push to reopen main channel to Port of Baltimore

Posted at 5:11 PM, Jun 10, 2024

BALTIMORE, Md. — Before the sun came up Monday morning, the work had already begun. The Army Corps of Engineers and its federal contractor, Don Jon Marine, conducted what they hope will be the final survey of the Fort McHenry channel. It’s the final push to reopen the main channel to the Port of Baltimore after the collapse of the Key Bridge.

"The survey they did this morning was very thorough,” said Army Corps of Engineers’ Colonel Estee Pinchasin. "Whatever high spots that they're finding will be investigated and made sure that they are not posing any obstructions for the vessels that are going to be coming back."

The original goal was to have this phase completed some time between June 8-10. But Colonel Pinchasin reiterated today, they’re going to do this right. The largest ships that call on the port only have about a foot of clearance to work, so any steel sticking out of the riverbed could pose a problem.

"We're so close to being done. We don't want to leave anything to chance or make any assumptions. We're gonna explore every high spot and make sure we're not leaving anything that could be a hazard to the vessels coming through."

On Monday morning, Col. Pinchasin told WMAR-2 News, "We're definitely aiming for today. We are trying very hard to deliver this timeframe. And we've had our contractor, Don Jon Marine, working late into the night the last 3 nights to be as thorough as possible.”

The current 400-foot channel is wide enough for any and all ships that would call on the port to pass through. But it's limited to one-way traffic, and there are some weather restrictions. Once the channel is "fully” reopened to 700 feet, those restrictions will no longer be in place.

Even once the channel is reopened, you’ll still see salvage crews and equipment working outside of the channel, continuing to remove any remaining wreckage that’s still lurking beneath the surface. The Army Corps hopes to wrap up all recovery work by the end of the month.

Construction of the new bridge isn’t expected to start until summer 2025. WMAR-2 News asked the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Chief Engineer Jim Harkness if the channel will have to close again during construction.

He said, "That is a key component in selecting a team that is collaborative and flexible. We’re gonna be looking to minimize those impacts to the Port of Baltimore, and maximizing the ability to work without disruption to the channel. Then of course, in a case where that can’t be avoided, we’ll be closely coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard and our sister agency at the port."

If you’ve been following this story closely, perhaps you’re interested in getting an up-close look at some of the Army Corps vessels involved in the work. You’ll get a chance to do so during Maryland Fleet Week, which runs from June 12-18.

"The two vessels we have here with us - our survey vessel Catlett, and our debris vessel Reynolds, will be here for the public to come and see and visit the vessels that have been involved in the Key Bridge collapse recovery effort,” Col. Pinchasin said.