The tugboat Crystal Coast pushes a fuel barge through the temporary alternate channel created by the Key Bridge Response Unified Command on April 1, 2024. (Credit: US Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Bacon)

A barge and tug passed through a temporary alternate channel created by the Key Bridge Response Unified Command at 3 p.m. on Monday, April 1, the first vessels to exit the Port of Baltimore since the bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River on March 26. According to Unified Command, the barge is used to supply jet fuel to the Department of Defense and was trapped while transiting to Dover Air Force Base.

The temporary alternate channel near Sollers Point on the northeast side of the main ship channel is limited to commercially-essential vehicles and has a controlling depth of 11 feet, a 264-foot horizontal clearance, and vertical clearance of 95 feet. It is marked with government-lighted navigation aids and is limited for transit at the discretion of the Captain of the Port during daylight hours only.

The Unified Command is currently working to establish a second, temporary alternate channel on the southwest side of the main channel that will allow for vessels up to an anticipated draft restriction of 15 to 16 feet.

Two crane barges, a 650-ton crane and a 330-ton crane, are actively working on the scene to lift and transfer wreckage to a barge as daylight allows.

According to Col. Estee Pinchasin, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, debris will be transferred to a laydown yard at Tradepoint Atlantic at Sparrows Point where it will be inspected and secured until Unified Command finds a final disposition for disposal in a safe manner.

Progress and assistance

During his April 1 press conference, Gov. Wes Moore confirmed that a 200-ton span of the bridge has already been transferred to a barge.

“We’re talking about something almost the size of the Statue of Liberty, and it’s a small piece of what we’re talking about,” he said, adding that crews had begun working on another section that weighs an estimated 350 tons.

Since opening its Small Business Resource Center at 1501 South Clinton Street in Baltimore on March 30, the Small Business Administration had logged 57 applications for Economic Injury Disaster Loans for Maryland by the afternoon of April 1.

The Resource Center is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. 

“The office includes representatives from the SBA, Maryland Department of Labor, the Maryland Insurance Administration, Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel County,” Moore said, and will soon be joined by a second location that will open in Baltimore County.

“I have also ordered the formation of the Intergovernmental Economic Response Team that will bring together state, local and federal agencies to coordinate our response to the economic and financial crisis resulting from this collapse,” Moore said.

Read Admiral Shannon Gilreath, commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, said divers have found conditions beneath the water more complicated than initially hoped for.

“There are steel girders with significant damage along the bottom, tangled together and intertwined making it difficult to determine where we need to cut,” he said.

Gilreath confirmed that Unified Command is working on clearing a third temporary channel just north of the deep draft shipping channel that will offer between 20 and 25 feet of draft to allow almost all barge traffic to enter and exit the Port.

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