NewsKey Bridge Collapse


"There's a lot of pressure on us": Removing and recycling Key Bridge wreckage

Posted at 6:32 PM, Apr 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-15 18:37:59-04

SPARROWS POINT, Md. — Thousands of tons of steel still sit in the Patapsco River, where the Key Bridge once stood. The methodical work to remove the wreckage, piece by piece, continues. All that steel has to go somewhere.

On Monday morning, members of the Unified Command, the group of state and federal agencies working together on the response, escorted members of the media to the processing site in Sparrows Point where the debris is taken for recycling.

We saw crews cutting into the biggest piece of steel the salvage teams have removed from the Key Bridge wreckage site so far. They used the biggest crane on the Eastern Seaboard to do it - the Chesapeake 1000.

"The piece itself was quite big - roughly 400 - 500 tons worth of steel," Frank Schiano, member of the U.S. Coast Guard's Atlantic Strike team, and salvage branch director for Unified Command, said.

"They had to cut it down the middle to be able to break it into two pieces to be under the weight limit for the crane," Captain Sal Suarez, U.S. Navy supervisor of salvage and diving, said.

Once they arrive to Sparrows Point, there's still more cutting to do, breaking them down into even smaller pieces.

"Very large pieces of material, steel trusses, some 70 feet by 40 feet. They are cut down using propane torches, mechanical shears, an systematically processed to ever smaller pieces that will eventually be able to be hauled off the site by trucks," James Harkness, chief engineer for the Maryland Transportation Authority, said.

Harkness says, so far, six pieces, totaling more than 1,000 tons, have been lifted out of the water and taken here.

"We are utilizing some local businesses to recycle the materials to the greatest extent possible," Harkness said.

There's still a lot of bridge left - including the pieces draped across the ship, and the pieces sunken into the mud on the river bottom.

A company called Resolve Marine is leading the effort on the ship. Per federal regulations, every vessel that comes into the U.S. over a certain size needs to have a responder "that’s named ahead of time in case something like this happens," according to Resolve Marine CEO Joseph Farrell. "So we were the named responder for this vessel, the Dali which simplifies the response because the second something happened, we were immediately activated, and had people on the scene within hours.”

Resolve Marine's team is working to remove about 180 shipping containers from the bow of the Dali, clearing room for the next step - cutting and lifting the massive piece of steel on top of the ship.

“The challenge with the bridge across the bow is that there’s a lot of potential energy, meaning that this thing could actually continue to go further down. So the challenge is developing a cutting method that will quickly cut without endangering any more people or assets," Farrell said.

The next and final step for Resolve Marine will be refloating the ship, and getting it out of the channel, either assisted by tug boats, or possibly sailing on its own power. It will berth again at the Port of Baltimore. The ship is stable, but not seaworthy.

“Obviously the ship is blocking the channel somewhat. It presents a dynamic hazard. It’s still floating somewhat. So getting it out of there is a priority for safety and also for the ability to open the channel back up," Farrell said.

As for the debris underwater, the U.S. Navy is working with a team of divers operating on emergency contracts. That includes New Jersey-based salvage company, Don Jon Marine.

“One of the most important things we had to do - we had a diagram of what the bridge was supposed to look like if it came into the water as it would if it just slightly rested in the water. We knew that’s not what it was gonna look like, but we had to have a starting point," Robyn Bianchi, assistant salvage master for Don Jon Marine, said. "The diving aspect in the very beginning was extremely important because we had to know what it looked like under the water before we could actually come up with further planning on how to get it safely out of the water.”

Bianchi echoed what all of the Unified Command members have said from the start of the operation - safety is paramount, and won't be sacrificed for the sake of speed.

"There's a lot of pressure on us. This is affecting our economy, we gotta get this waterway open. I think if we can get through this project without any other safety instances, just keeping everyone safe, that's the priority," Bianchi said.

"We have over 300 responders working on this and we've had no injuries to date, and we intend to keep it that way," Commander Sharon Russell, Deputy Incident Commander for the Unified Command, said.

As we begin a new week, the response team maintains that they are still on schedule to open the limited access channel by the end of April, and the main federal channel by the end of May.