BALTIMORE — The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Baltimore District said it expects to have the Port of Baltimore partially open by April 30 with full vessel transit by May 31. Until then, the port remains closed to commercial cargo vessels.

Two alternative channels on either side of the closed main channel were opened this week to help with cleanup efforts and to allow smaller vessels, such as tugboats and barges, to pass through with approval. With depths of just 11 feet and 14 feet, neither channel was suitable for larger cargo vessels. 

“After detailed studies and engineering assessments by local, state and federal organizations, in collaboration with industry partners, USACE expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep, to the Port of Baltimore within the next four weeks — by the end of April,” the USACE said. “This channel would support one-way traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore for barge container service and some roll on/roll off vessels that move automobiles and farm equipment to and from the port.

“USACE engineers are aiming to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May, restoring port access to normal capacity.”

The Port of Baltimore is a major port for imports and exports of cars, small trucks and machinery that utilize roll on/roll off shipping vessels. 

The timeline appears to work well with the need for raw sugar imports to feed the ASR Group’s Domino sugar refinery in the Inner Port of Baltimore. ASR Group said it has six to eight weeks of raw sugar supply on hand at the refinery.

“These are ambitious timelines that may still be impacted by significant adverse weather conditions or changes in the complexity of the wreckage,” said Lieutenant General Scott A. Spellman, USACE commanding general.  

In the meantime, crews were working to remove debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed March 26 after being struck by a container ship that remains pinned in the harbor under bridge material. The USACE is part of the Unified Command that also includes the US Coast Guard, Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland Transportation Authority, Maryland State Police and Witt O’Brien’s representing Synergy Marine.