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By SAM ALLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
The newly formed Ward Cove Dock Group on Monday announced plans to renovate existing facilities at the former Ketchikan Pulp Mill and build a two-berth cruise ship dock in Ward Cove by summer 2020, and the community started to assess the impact Tuesday.
The private company is owned 50-50 by companies owned by Andrew and Dave Spokely of Ketchikan and James, John, and Skip Binkley, according to state records.
The Spokely family purchased the Ward Cove land from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in 2011. During the next few years the borough had considered plans to clean up Ward Cove and build a moorage facility for the Alaska Marine Highway System and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Those plans never came to fruition.
On Friday, Power Systems & Supplies of Alaska, owned by the Spokelys, filed a zoning permit application with the borough.
The application read, "We are proposing to build a two-berth cruise ship dock and re-purpose some of the existing building structures as a passenger terminal and welcome center for the dock."
Early estimates for the land construction is $50 million, according to Trevor Shaw, Power Systems & Supplies of Alaska administrative manager and director of government affairs.
Power Systems & Supplies of Alaska has a land-use lease agreement with Godspeed Inc., owned by the Binkleys. Ward Cove Dock Group, made up of this 50-50 partnership, would own the dock.
Ward Cove Dock Group is working with Norwegian Cruise Lines to help finance the project. In exchange, NCL will receive preferential berthing rights.
While the announcement of the plan was a surprise to many, and there are many unknowns, both Ketchikan municipalities see the potential benefits.
The City of Ketchikan has been in the midst of figuring out how to expand at least one of its berths to accommodate larger, neo-panamax cruise ships. Cost estimates for this keep rising. The city was working on soliciting proposals from the cruise ship industry to help with construction to avoid assuming more debt.
Ketchikan City Mayor Bob Sivertsen said Tuesday that the Ward Cove t-shaped dock designed for the largest cruise ships could alleviate the urgency to expand.
However, he said that the city would "absolutely" still be looking into port expansion and uplands development for the downtown berths downtown.
"It's changed the dynamics for the City of Ketchikan and so we're going to have to think about what we're going to do moving forward," said Sivertsen.
Wednesday the Joint Borough-City Cooperative Relations Committee will meet. Part of its discussion is expected to center around a "tourism master plan," which will undoubtedly take into consideration recent developments, according to Sivertsen.
"We had a thought plan prior to this and now it's — I wouldn't want to call it necessarily a competitive market in Ketchikan," said Sivertsen, "but we definitely have two separate — are going to have two separate facilities — and that's going to impact us somehow."
With more moorage space, fewer ships would have to lighter, according to Sivertsen, and besides neo-panamax size ships there are many panamax size and adventure class-size cruise ships that would need some place to port, he said.
"I believe that the intent here is not to compete," said Sivertsen of the private dock project, "but to grow the industry here in Ketchikan."
A concern of the city has been congestion of the downtown area due to influxes of cruise ship passengers.
"Does this alleviate that," asked Sivertsen, "or do we have another problem to address in regard to where they disembark passengers when they come in with buses compared to where they pick them up and drop them now?"
He also mentioned that taking passengers into town on the water could also be an option.
He said that the city is working through all the aspects of the community that this would impact as they arise.
"There's just a lot of moving parts that have to come about," said Sivertsen.
While Sivertsen said the city is having conversations and processing the potential impacts, much remains unknown.
What is known is that the city and Ketchikan Gateway Borough would still receive CPV funds, or head taxes for each passenger, but lose out on wharfage fees, according to Sivertsen.
Dave Spokely said in Monday's written announcement that they'd "hope to have local vendors on the site and local tours leaving from The Mill."
These local vendors and tours would be subject to sales tax. Renovation of existing mill buildings into a passenger terminal and welcoming center would entail a reassessment of property value, and potentially more property tax revenue.
Borough Mayor Dave Landis said, it "looks like it offers a lot to the community as far as spreading out the tourism activity and potential for developing infrastructure in that area and then just the economic activity generated by new construction is certainly positive. It just seems like it might alleviate the concentration of both land, water and air-based activity outside in the downtown core."
Norwegian Cruise Lines did not respond for comment by press time Tuesday.
"The details aren't fully known, and probably won't be for a while — or the timelines," said Landis, "but it sounds optimistic and I certainly think that it could be a very positive thing for the community."