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Port of Baltimore ready for post-Dali recovery with improvements after Key Bridge disaster

Inside look at the Port of Baltimore's recovery
Inside look at the Port of Baltimore's recovery 02:47

BALTIMORE -- The Port of Baltimore is ready for its comeback story two months after Maryland's biggest maritime disaster, the collapse of the Francis Scott Key and the closure of the Port of Baltimore.

The full federal channel in the Patapsco River is set to open in just days.

With that will come bigger ships and the cargo that is the lifeblood of this economic engine. 

Ports America Chesapeake President Mark Schmidt is ready for the next chapter. 

He showed WJZ projects that have been underway since the collapse of the Key Bridge largely shut down port access—including electrifying diesel equipment to operate the cranes and extensive repaving. They are silver linings to the tragedy. 

"On any given day we employ about one thousand longshoremen, and during the outage, we kept about 350 on a daily average engaged in the operation, and we've kept our full management team and staff onboard," Schmidt told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren.

  The port used the time to repave and upgrade. They are converting diesel-powered crane equipment to electric. This area would normally be filled with trucks and cargo containers. WJZ

Schmidt showed WJZ around the heart of the port, which would have been packed with containers before the disaster. Many there now are empty. 

"This is an opportunity for us. One, we needed to keep the employees engaged—having the ILA workforce on site doing what they could do and that included maintenance, upgrades to the facility, training," Schmidt said, "It was a very quick decision to say 'Hey, we have a responsibility and obligation to the port and to our employees to make sure we continue to do projects like this and keep them moving.'"

Keeping workers on the job

Initiatives including training workers on cranes allowed them to keep getting paychecks.

"A lot of our employers kept people on the payroll when they didn't have to," said Scott Cowan, the local president of the International Longshoremen's Association.

Cowan said it is a relief to see the Dali out of the channel.

"When it happened, it was like a light switch going off," Cowan said. "The folks didn't know how they were going to pay their bills, feed their families and continue with their everyday course of life. Many people don't realize the economic impact that this caused the state of Maryland's economy to the tune of $91 million a day, not to mention the ILA families that immediately lost wages and benefits. It almost stopped completely for them. This is a serious matter."

The Dail today

WJZ A look today from the Port of Baltimore at where the Key Bridge once stood.   

The Dali now sits at Berth One, in view of the progress.

"This is a salvage operation, and we move cargo on and off ships. The debris, we left it to the pros. We provided a location to them to bring the ship alongside so they could effectively finish their salvage operation on the vessel," Schmidt said. 

He told Hellgren that that Dali's cargo will not be unloaded here. That should happen when it reaches Norfolk. The Dali is expected to remain in Baltimore for the next four to six weeks. 

Looking ahead

Schmidt is looking forward and said the number of vessels on their way is encouraging. 

"We are seeing a really strong resurgence. We have 17 vessel calls on the calendar for Ports of America Chesapeake next week—so the next seven days," he said. 

  The Dali at Seagirt today. Workers are training on cranes in the foreground. WJZ

"We fully anticipate by the middle or end of June, we will have the full contingency of our services back in place," Schmidt said.

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