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Port of Albany prepares for impacts after collapse of Baltimore bridge

The Hudson River as seen from Albany.
Ian Pickus
The Hudson River as seen from Albany.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has affected the supply chain, but for now, the Port of Albany isn’t feeling any impacts.  

The city of Baltimore is looking to rebuild its bridge and completely reopen its port after a container ship lost power and rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge March 26th. Six people who were working on the bridge when the ship hit died in the collapse. Baltimore is the ninth-busiest port in the country.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore called the incident a "national economic catastrophe" that has seen shippers rerouting or holding cargo vessels in place, and workers struggling to open temporary channels so some ships can get past the bridge wreckage. The incident has raised concerns about the Northeast shipping corridor. Democratic Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said it’s not clear what the effects will be locally.

" I don't know whether it's going to impact the Port of Albany. I know certainly, from an infrastructure standpoint, it is resulting in every port I across the country, really looking at their vulnerabilities and ensuring that they are able to avoid and prevent this type of tragedy from happening,” Sheehan said. 

A spokesperson says nothing has changed at the Port of Albany yet.

Supply chain experts had expected ports up and down the East Coast would likely absorb much of Baltimore’s traffic, likely with longer shipping times and upheaval.

Dr. David Banks is a lecturer in the Geography and Planning Department at the University at Albany and director of UAlbany’s Globalization Studies. Banks spoke with WAMC about possible impacts along the Hudson River and the Ports of Albany and Rensselaer.

 “All of the cities around here in the Capital Region exist because we're the northernmost part of the Hudson River where seafaring ships can go," Banks said. "And so, yeah, it is something that we should be thinking about.”

In January 2019, bridges over the Hudson River in the Capital Region were closed after several vessels including a tug boat, barges, a floating restaurant, and a river cruise ship broke free from their moorings in Troy and started traveling south toward Albany.

One vessel came into contact with the Congress Street Bridge. A river cruise ship got stuck under the Livingston Avenue railroad bridge near the Corning Preserve.

Luckily, none of the bridges suffered any appreciable damage and there were no injuries or loss of life. Since then there have been no major maritime mishaps along that section of the Hudson. Again, Banks: “If we don't upgrade our ports to take care of that, yeah, that could be a serious issue. And including climate change, where like these rising sea levels could also impact existing infrastructure and how boats, where boats are floating vis-à-vis the bridges and ports and whatnot. So that should all be of concern. And also what's on those ships, we should be thinking about because if there's something explosive or toxic, even if it doesn't have a catastrophic collision with a bridge or something, just capsizing or losing any of his cargo can have serious environmental consequences,” said Banks. 

Officials expect it will take "months" to fully clear the port of Baltimore, and reconstructing the Francis Scott Key Bridge will take years.

The American Association of Port Authorities' Derek Miller responded to a request for comment via email, saying the system “is resilient and able to absorb shocks thanks in large part to wise investment, from the federal government and local partners, in our maritime infrastructure.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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