Baltimore is historically a port city with a rich maritime history and the Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District’s navigation mission plays a large part in that continued heritage. While the District maintains over 290 miles of federal navigable channels within the Susquehanna River watershed through its navigation mission, support to the Port of Baltimore is a key aspect of that mission.
In partnership with the Maryland Port Administration, Baltimore District maintains a network of dozens of miles of deep-draft channels leading to and from terminals associated with the Port of Baltimore to ensure safe passage for shipping vessels.
The three key aspects of maintaining safe passage on these channels is dredging, and surveying the federal channels and debris removal.
The Port of Baltimore connects the United States to international ports all around the world and largest of the international ships require the channels be dug to a depth of 50 feet. This is accomplished through dredging done by companies contracted through Baltimore District. A handful of the several channels that support the Port of Baltimore are dredged yearly on a rotating basis to ensure continued safe travel for vessels. In fiscal year 2020, the Corps will remove 5.5 million cubic yards of material from six different Baltimore Harbor channels.
The material removed from the Harbor may consist of mud, silt, sand, shell and other like mixtures. Material from the Baltimore Harbor approach channels in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay are beneficially reused at the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island.
To track the conditions of channels and support dredging operations, hydrographic surveys are conducted using cutting-edge technology to determine the depth of waterways. In 2019, Baltimore District conducted 92 deep and shallow draft surveys. These were done not only in channels associated with Baltimore Harbor, but also in other remote, shallow-water projects which support the local commerce and fishing industry. These extensive surveys determined the necessary dredging required for the upcoming year.
In addition to surveying and dredging, the Corps’ Debris Vessel REYNOLDS patrols Baltimore Harbor, removing large debris that may cause damage, financial losses and safety hazards to both commercial and recreational vessels. This debris collection intensifies after storms, high tide events and during high river flows. In fiscal year 2019, Baltimore Harbor’s debris unit removed 275,000 pounds of debris from its Baltimore Harbor area of operations that includes the Patapsco River and its tributaries in an area covering 24 square miles.
With sediment dredged and debris removed from the shipping channels yearly, this allows the Port of Baltimore to benefit the economy in Maryland as well as the rest of the United States.
“Specific to the Port of Baltimore, our work supports the regional economy with 130,000 jobs linked to the Port, which generates about $3 billion in business and facilitates the movement of 40 million tons of international cargo worth more than $50 billion annually,” said Baltimore District Navigation Section Chief Graham Mcallister.