Buttigieg Outlines Urgent Effort to Restore Access to Port of Baltimore

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized on Wednesday the challenges facing federal officials as they strategized how to clear the rubble of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and restore access to the Port of Baltimore.

Joined by Vice Adm. Peter Gautier, the deputy commandant for operations for the Coast Guard, Mr. Buttigieg outlined the urgent effort taking shape to clean up the debris around the Dali, the cargo ship that crashed into the bridge Tuesday and remains stuck underneath it, blocking traffic to the port.

“Rebuilding will not be quick, or easy or cheap,” Mr. Buttigieg told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, “but we will get it done.”

Before the port can be opened, Mr. Gautier said, the Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must dismantle the bridge and stabilize the ship, which dropped some of its 4,700 containers into the water and was still carrying more than 50 that contained potentially hazardous materials. Those containers, Mr. Gautier added, held mostly mineral oils and compounds that did not pose an immediate risk to the environment or public safety.

He also said that divers were dispatched on Wednesday to survey the ship from underwater and to prepare to separate it from the tangle of metal pressing down on the ship’s bow.

Mr. Buttigieg said that the Transportation Department was prioritizing reopening the port and managing supply chain issues, and that it would also help organize the longer-term project of rebuilding the bridge, which he said originally took five years in the 1970s.

He declined to elaborate on comments he had made earlier on Wednesday in which he suggested that companies involved in the accident could face penalties if future investigations found them negligent, insisting that inquiries by law enforcement and the National Transportation Safety Board needed to continue.

“Any private party that is responsible and liable will be held accountable,” he said.

He also declined to say whether regulators would waive any policies in order to speed up reconstruction of the bridge, but he said there was a “clear directive” from President Biden to “tear down any barriers, bureaucratic as well as financial.”

Mr. Buttigieg highlighted the commercial importance of the port, which is a major clearinghouse for car and farm equipment imports, and which handles $100 million to $200 million worth of cargo during a typical day.

Although port workers have continued to sort through cargo on the docks and worked on unloading the roughly one dozen ships trapped inside, Mr. Buttigieg stressed that the port’s closure could jeopardize the jobs of some 8,000 workers who collectively earn around $2 million in wages every day.

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