Tugboat company stuck at dock as Baltimore bridge cleanup continues: 'We can't go in or out'

Tug boats stuck at the dock during Key Bridge wreckage cleanup

BALTIMORE - With the Port of Baltimore still shutdown to ship traffic, business has come to a halt for some along the Patapsco River. 

That includes Upper Bay Assist, a tugboat company based in Sparrows Point and Curtis Bay. The boats remain docked as the cleanup continues.

Jordan McCluskey, the owner and operator of the tugboat business, has worked in the maritime industry for nearly two decades. He says he heard about the Key Bridge collapse at 2 a.m. on March 26 when he began receiving notifications on his phone.

"I was shocked," McCluskey said. "To look back and not see it, it's just an odd feeling."

McCluskey lives and works on the water near Old Bay Road in Sparrows Point just a few miles south of where the bridge once stood. His father owns the marina across the street from his house. 

On a normal day, the tugboats would be out guiding coal barges through the channel to the Brandon Shore Power Plant. Now, they sit and wait for it to reopen.

"When a barge is loaded pretty much it can be up to 12, 13, sometimes even 14 feet," McCluskey said. "That auxiliary channel is too small for [the barges]. It's only drawing 11 feet, so we can't go in and out of there right now."

To offset some of the additional costs, the Small Business Administration is offering loans to help local shops stay afloat. 

The administration says there is an unlimited amount of funds available, and businesses can receive up to $2 million each. So far, nearly 60 businesses have applied for loans.

"These are some difficult times for small businesses and these loans are working capital loans that help them out with the recovery," Stephen Clark, public affairs specialist with the Small Business Administration, said.

Two recovery centers are open to answer questions about the loans at 11 Center Place Suite 201 in Dundalk and 1501 S. Clinton Street in Baltimore. 

Gov. Wes Moore visited the Baltimore location on Tuesday with other state leaders and Sen. Ben Cardin. 

They met with Care First employees, representatives of the Small Business Administration, and business owners who were at the recovery center.

"It gives small business owner independent contractor the opportunity to catch his or her breath to be able to keep their operations going," Sen. Ben Cardin said.

More locations could be added if demand is high, according to a spokesperson for the administration. Businesses can apply online or at the recovery centers through mid-December.

McCluskey says his tugboats are standing ready, and he's hoping the channel is reopened by the summer, which is busy season for the power plant. He says he's anxious to get his boats back to work. 

"I think everybody is. That comes with time, we all know that," McCluskey said.

McCluskey says 80 to 90 percent of large ship traffic will stay on hold because the auxiliary channel is too small and shallow for larger vessels. He says he's spoken to other tugboat drivers who are also grounded until the port and channel reopen.

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