The Port of Baltimore should reopen with limited access by the end of April and completely reopen to shipping by the end of May, the U.S. Corps of Engineers said Thursday evening.

The Corps, in a written statement, said it expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep in about four weeks.

The Corps said the 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.

Normal port capacity could be restored by the end of May, the Corps said, with the reopening of a permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel.

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Weather conditions and any changes to the wreckage complexity could slow the reopening timeline, said Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon.

The site of the collapsed Key Bridge and the container ship that toppled it, The Dali, are seen from a debris retrieval vessel, The Reynolds, on April 4, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“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,” Spellmon said. “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.

“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,” Spellmon said.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the “ambitious timeline” the Corps is pitching will allow Baltimore to plan the economic and infrastructure recovery efforts.

“We and our partners across all levels of government have been pushing for a timeline, and now we have a target,” Moore said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to meet that target.”

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Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said he’s grateful for the proposed timeline to reopen the port and the county will continue working with Moore and President Joe Biden’s administration to mitigate the impact of the disaster.

“As they continue this incredibly difficult, complicated and dangerous work, Baltimore County will do everything we can to support workers and businesses affected by the blocked shipping channel,” Olszewski said. “Together, we will get through this.”

Salvage work continues

Crews are working to rig up some of the shipping containers that are on the bow of the Dali and move them to Tradepoint Atlantic, officials with the Unified Command said Thursday.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath also said crews are working to rig for removal a section of bridge debris that’s just north of the primary channel. That is supposed to happen later Thursday.

The salvage work has been disciplined and methodical, said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Estee S. Pinchasin. Crews are working diligently, in incredibly difficult conditions, to make sure there are no additional injuries or fatalities from the salvage work, officials said.

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The crew of the Dali remain onboard and the U.S. Coast Guard is regularly checking on them to make sure they’re OK, officials said Thursday. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Every time crews remove wreckage from the water, divers have to survey what remains to see how the material reacted, she said. Pinchasin likened it to a spring — if you had a spring that was tense, but looked still, and cut the spring, it would snap.

Pinchasin said Maryland State Police divers are standing by and ready to enter the water if, during the course of salvage work, crews discover anything related to the effort to recover the missing construction workers.

“It is an integrated part of the salvage operation. The recovery, it’s not an afterthought,” she said.

Relief efforts

Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration is working with state and local officials to get loans and other assistance to the businesses that are affected by the collapse and closure of the port.

Moore said the two Maryland Business Resource Centers have helped a combined 77 businesses over the last two days. On Friday, a Business Recovery Center will open at the Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk campus to help small businesses apply for aid from the federal government.

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SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman said businesses that qualify for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the federal government can get 12 months of deferral on payments and on interest accruing on the loans.

Col. Estee S. Pinchasin explains what is happening on the water surrounding the Key Bridge collapse, seen here on April 4, 2024 while on board the debris vessel The Reynolds. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“Businesses can use this cash, this capital, to really maintain payroll, maintain their overhead, be able to survive in the community and support the community as they do so well in this country,” she said. More than 500 applications have been filed with the administration so far, she added.

Moore said officials would have to look for “creative” ways to bring relief to the port, too. As an example, he said, one vessel that was bound for Baltimore but rerouted to the Port of New York and New Jersey transferred 75 containers back to Baltimore via rail.

Those 75 containers will be processed by union workers in Baltimore. But this kind of transfer is not a permanent solution, he said.

“The 75 containers that were moved today represents less than 5% of the average number of containers that the port processed daily before the collapse,” Moore said.

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Pieces of the road on the Key Bridge are still visible above water on April 4, 2024
The site of the collapsed Key Bridge and the container ship that toppled it, the Dali, are seen from a debris retrieval vessel, The Reynolds, on April 4, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Baltimore has also approved $1 million in relief funding for workers affected by the collapse and conducted fundraising for the families of the victims.

Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said the funding would go directly to the families, “for whatever they need, no matter which jurisdiction they reside in.”

Biden is expected in Baltimore on Friday. He’s said he wants the federal government to foot the entire bill for replacing the Key Bridge and has repeatedly said the federal government will “move heaven and earth” to get things done.

This story has been updated.

Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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