U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Clears Wreckage from Limited Access Channel in Port of Baltimore

With the removal of a 560-ton section of structural steel on April 22, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has cleared enough wreckage from a 35-foot-deep Limited Access Channel (LAC), in accordance with USACE’s commitment to deliver it by the end of April. The LAC runs the northern portion of the wider and federal channel, which has been blocked since the March 26 collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. This important, incremental step enables USACE and its partners to continue progress toward fully reopening the 50-foot-deep Fort McHenry Federal Channel.

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“In achieving this important milestone, we continue to signal our resolute commitment to the people of Baltimore and the nation that we will not rest until the Port of Baltimore returns to normal operations,” said USACE Commanding General Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon. “We are proud to deliver on this next major step toward fully reopening the Fort McHenry Channel. Clearing this limited access channel would not have been possible without the integrated efforts of our amazing partners with the Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, as well as the partnerships across our federal, state and local agencies.”

Wreckage removal operations continue April 14, 2024 at the Fort McHenry Federal Navigation Channel response. Debris and wreckage removal is ongoing in support of a top priority to safely and efficiently open the Fort McHenry channel. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER ROSARIO

With wreckage cleared in the LAC, the next steps include sonar surveys by USACE, U.S. Coast Guard placement of navigation aids, and issuance of updated nautical charts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Port officials will then determine the viability of resuming commercial one-way maritime traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore on a case-by-case basis.

The LAC is planned to have a controlling depth of at least 35 feet, a horizontal clearance of 300 feet, and a vertical clearance of 214 feet. The Captain of the Port will permit transit within the LAC with restrictions as described in MSIB 043-24, including weather limitation which may impact that transit window. When deemed operational, the LAC is expected to provide passage for a limited number of commercial vessels into the Port of Baltimore and a departure opportunity for some deep draft vessels currently unable to leave the harbor since the bridge collapse.

Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command salvors work to move a large piece of supporting steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, April 14, 2024, in Baltimore, Maryland. Removing these large pieces will help open a Limited Access Channel that allows one-way ship traffic to the Port of Baltimore. Debris and wreckage removal is on-going in support of a top priority to safely and efficiently open the Fort McHenry channel. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER ROSARIO

“The salvage work that’s taking place is dangerous and very complex – all in an unforgiving environment,” said USACE Baltimore District Commander Col. Estee Pinchasin. “From Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving to our partners with industry and in cooperation with the entire Unified Command, I am pleased with the ongoing tireless commitment to achieve this magnitude of progress without any significant safety incidents.”

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“The level of coordination both behind the scenes and out on the water is exceptional” she said. “As part of the Unified Command working diligently to fully restore commerce to the Port of Baltimore, we have not and will not lose focus of what is most important – the safety of our crews and accounting for those still missing to bring closure to their families.”

About the Fort McHenry Channel

Since 1917, USACE Baltimore District has maintained the Fort McHenry Channel, and work on the Congressionally-authorized “Baltimore Harbors and Channel” project began in 1987, when the district first dredged the 3.6-nautical-mile Fort McHenry Channel to a minimum width and depth of 700 feet by 50 feet respectively. Every few years, Baltimore District re-dredges the channel, removing the equivalent of more than 28,150 dump trucks of mud and silt that collects on the bottom of the Fort McHenry Channel, ensuring continued safe navigation for vessels going in and out of the Port of Baltimore.

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