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, after a container ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Patapsco River on March 26.

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.

The port is a key location for the import of sugar used by the ASR Group’s Domino Sugar refinery located in the inner port in 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,” 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 said its engineers aim to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May.

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 Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellman, USACE commanding general.  

In the meantime, crews were working to remove debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The container ship that crashed into the bridge remains pinned in the harbor under bridge material.