The Baltimore Shipping Channel has been fully restored after a massive cleanup

After a massive cleanup effort, federal and state officials fully reopened the main shipping channel to Baltimore Harbor on Monday, turning the site of horrific destruction into a symbol of resilience after an errant container ship capsized on the Francis Scott Key Bridge in March. Six workers.

Officials restored the Federal Channel to its original 700-foot width and 50-foot depth, giving Baltimore a moment of hope after a painful period.

“Once again, Baltimore calculated and got out,” Mayor Brandon Scott (D) said in an interview. “Once again, Baltimore proved the world wrong.”

Disruption from the March 26 bridge collapse cost the Baltimore region’s economy about $1.2 billion, said Anirban Basu, an economist at Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore-based consulting firm. This takes into account the sharp drop in port activity immediately after the disaster and the more moderate losses due to smaller channels carrying less cargo.

Getting here was not easy. Multiple layers of government and the private sector stalled a major clean-up operation, preventing a long supply chain nightmare.

“When we work together, we can do really big things,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said in an interview Friday, adding that some early estimates said it could take six months to a year to fully restore the channel. It ended up being 11 weeks.

Scott didn’t imagine it would reopen so quickly when he embraced Moore in Fort Armistead Park as he grieving in the early hours after the disaster.

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.

In contrast to previous disasters, such as New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin “begging the federal government for help” after Hurricane Katrina, the bridge was not cut off after it fell, Scott said.

“When you’re talking about political animals, so to speak, everyone is very territorial. People are very focused on how this will affect them. theyScott said. But he said no one went out of his way in this regard. “I would venture to say it’s the first time in American history that hasn’t happened.”

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Instead, the Army already contracted with the Navy’s Surveillance and Salvage and Diving, which specializes in responding to maritime emergencies, to bring massive ships, cranes and teams of specialist contractors to remove 100 million pounds of bridge debris from the Patapsco.

After surveying the treacherous underwater conditions, crews began removing the wreckage of the bridge on March 30. Along with the Coast Guard, specialized Maryland divers and other rescue teams passed the rapid fire series of milestones. They opened temporary or limited channels for shallow-draft vessels, then larger ones; A barrage of controlled explosions was set off to free the container ship Daly from the bridge it destroyed, allowing the channel to be partially reopened to larger vessels; and, on June 4, lifted the last large steel section of the bridge from the water. The government hopes to rebuild the bridge by 2028.

The overall economic effects are less severe than first feared, said Darius Irani, chief economist at Towson University’s Institute for Regional Economic Studies. The announcement that the full channel would soon reopen provided “light at the end of the tunnel” for many businesses, he said. But Irani said traffic problems caused by the loss of the bridge would continue to cause logistical disruptions.

Maryland officials say that in early June, a state-run worker retention program saved more than 3,000 jobs through subsidies to businesses that promised not to lay off workers for two months. But they said the full employment effects of the disaster were still being determined.

The latest Maryland jobs report for April showed a decline of 1,000 jobs in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, which is how many jobs are classified at the port. State officials said some of those losses may have been offset by a later retention program. Overall, Maryland added 7,800 jobs that month.

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Biden had told administration officials to pull “every lever we can” to speed up the reopening and was briefed on the efforts by senior military and Coast Guard chiefs, White House Vice President Natalie Guillen said.

Guillen, who led White House coordination after the bridge collapse, said reopening the entire channel “shows the strength and power we can do at the federal level, at the state level, at the local level. When we put all our resources together and make it better.

The effects of the reopening will be felt throughout the nation’s economy and beyond US borders.

It allows Companies are turning back entirely to moving bulk cargo — cars, tractors, containers and coal — through Baltimore, as they did before Daly lost power and veered off course.

Several large ships had already begun to return within days of authorities moving the Daly into port on May 20, allowing a limited, 400-foot-wide channel to open to a full 50-foot depth.

Maryland Port officials said Monday that the full reopening — originally planned for late May but delayed by problems cutting and pulling out the final pieces of the bridge — will accelerate the port’s recovery.

Officials said the fully functional channel allows two-way traffic again and provides additional safety measures while being narrower than usual. “Crews will continue to inspect and remove steel debris below and below the 50-foot soil line … to ensure that future excavation operations are not affected,” rescue officials said in a statement.

“Baltimore is back,” said Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the Maryland Port Authority. “Any cargo, any movement, any schedule – our terminal operators can welcome those ships. The 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 won’t.

Port boosters argue that all the reasons the port was attractive before the Daly disaster, such as the breadth of the local market it served, still hold true. They note that 70 percent of the contents of all containers coming into the port are consumed within 70 miles, and that the port serves as a gateway to the upper Midwest and beyond.

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But Daniels also acknowledged the pressure from rivals.

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

Companies like Mitsubishi Motors North America offer hope.

Baltimore is a major portal for Mitsubishi cars made in Japan and Thailand. After the Daly accident, Mitsubishi had to return some of its cars to the port in Wilmington, Del., and truck them to the company’s facilities in the Port of Baltimore, where parts such as floor mats and dashes are added.

Mitsubishi began returning ships to its regular facility on May 25. “We expect to resume operations where we left off,” company spokesman Jeremy Barnes said.

Loading and unloading operations are still backlogged weeks after the dolly accident.

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

“We’re definitely working over 50 percent, so it’s going in the right direction,” Cowan said.

The increase in activity has added to already existing congestion problems.

Don Ryan, vice president of government and public affairs at Mazda, said it was always “our intent and hope” to stay in port until the channel reopened quickly. Still, due to lack of key bridge, there is delay in arrival of trucks to the port and dealers have to go back, he said.

Now, the channel has reopened, but without a bridge, it’s unclear how much the renewed sea traffic will worsen traffic on the roads.

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

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