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Biden Tours Key Bridge Wreckage; USACE Sets Timeline to Reopen Navigation

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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USACE Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon views damage to the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed March 26 in Baltimore. Following USACE's federal authorities, USACE said on its website it are leading the effort to clear the channel as part of the larger interagency to restore operations at the Port of Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of USACE)

"Folks, we're going to move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible," said President Biden at a news conference April 5 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The president was visiting the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed March 26 in Baltimore. Biden recognized the families of the workers who lost their lives and the efforts of the first responders on the night of the collapse.

"The damage is devastating, and our hearts are still breaking. Eighty-eight construction workers went into the water when the bridge fell. Six lost their lives. Most were immigrants, but all were Marylanders -- hard-working, strong and selfless," said Biden. "We'll also never forget the contributions these men made to this city. We're going to keep working hard to recover each of them."

Biden told the crowd he took an aerial tour to survey the wreckage. "You know, from the air, I saw the bridge that's been ripped apart. But here on the ground, I see a community that's been pulled together. I want to thank you all -- the first responders, the port workers, state and local officials -- who sprang into action before dawn, who've been here ever since."

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has issued a disaster declaration, according to Biden, which will allow the SBA to offer low-interest loans for small businesses impacted by the collapse to keep things moving.

Biden told the crowd the priority was to open the nation's largest shipping hubs. "And it's the top port in America both in importing and exporting cars and light trucks -- the No. 1. Simply put: The impact here has a significant impact everywhere -- up and down the coast and around the country. Thousands of tons of mangled steel remain lodged in the water, blocking ships from moving in and out of the harbor."

Biden's task force on supply chain disruption has been engaging with union, rail, trucking, shipping, state and local leaders to minimize the impact on supply chains.

Biden said he directed the Coast Guard, the Navy and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), "who are, by the way, the finest engineers in the world -- and the state officials to work together to help remove this steel as quickly as possible and as safely as possible. So far, our team has been able to clear two small channels for essential ships to help clear the wreckage. And, on April 4, the Army Corps announced that by the end of April, they will be able to open the third channel for some commercial traffic, including car carriers. And by the end of May, we'll open the full channel -- the full channel."

Biden added the bridge would be rebuilt with American steel and union labor. "For a simple reason: They're the best workers in the world, and that's not hyperbole."

In a press release on the USACE Baltimore District web page, the Corps said it continues working with local, state and federal partners to clear the wreckage along the Fort McHenry Channel. Engineers have determined a tentative timeline for the restoration of safe navigation in and out of the Port of Baltimore.

"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. 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," said the Corps.

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.

"Thanks to the exhaustive work of the Unified Command during the last two weeks, including underwater surveys and detailed structural analysis of the wreckage, we've developed a better understanding of the immense and complex work that lies ahead," said Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, USACE commanding general. "A fully opened federal channel remains our primary goal, and we will carry out this work with care and precision, with safety as our chief priority."

"These are ambitious timelines that may still be impacted by significant adverse weather conditions or changes in the complexity of the wreckage," Spellmon added. "We are working quickly and safely to clear the channel and restore full service at this port that is so vital to the nation. At the same time, we continue to keep faith with the families of the missing and are working with our partners to help locate and recover their loved ones."

"We're the only nation that has gone through every crisis that we've had -- we come out stronger than we went in. And we're going to do it here as well. You know, because we're the United States of America, there's nothing -- nothing, nothing beyond our capacity when we do it together," concluded Biden.

View Biden's entire speech at the news conference in Baltimore on April 5: https://www.whitehouse.gov/…

View Baltimore District USACE Facebook page with an established timeline graph and close-up videos of the wreckage: https://www.facebook.com/…

Mary Kennedy can be reached at Mary.Kennedy@dtn.com.

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