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WF potential

Ketchikan’s future is on the water.

If the focus remains there, as it has for decades, then the First City has reason to be encouraged despite the fiscal challenges being tackled in Juneau by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state Legislature.

Alaska’s junior U.S. senator, Dan Sullivan, highlighted the reasons to be optimistic in a recent Ketchikan visit.

There is the Ketchikan Shipyard. Plus, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Ward Cove Group. Not to be forgotten is the City of Ketchikan and perhaps oil and gas and other industries expected to be active in the Arctic.

Ketchikan Shipyard recently got a new operator when the Carlyle Group and Stellex Capital Management acquired Vigor Industrial. It will be merged with MHI Holdings LLC.

The shipyard, owned by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, has had multiple managers through its approximately 40-year history.

The state, as well as the federal and local governments, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the shipyard’s growth.

It has built ships and maintained and repaired others. The Alaska Marine Highway System had two ferries built there. It’s also built and done maintenance and repairs for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, and for commercial fishing operators and others.

Sullivan says he was told by Vigor CEO Frank Foti that the sale is designed to reinvigorate the shipyard operation.

Sullivan, for his part, shared with Foti his intent to increase the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy presence in Alaska, pointing out that their marine vessels would be potential shipyard customers.

Southeast Alaska in particular will have a total of six Coast Guard vessels stationed in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Ketchikan.

Sullivan also placed in the Coast Guard Authorization Act this year language that gives the Coast Guard the ability to bypass regulations that prevent it from taking advantage of the local shipyard for its maintenance and repairs.

The bill unanimously passed out of the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee and will be directed to the full Senate.

Sullivan says he has secured commitments from the Coast Guard that it would direct work to the shipyard, given the removal of the rules preventing it.

He adds that he has made progress in getting NOAA’s hydrographic survey vessel, the Fairweather, home-ported in Ketchikan; on paper, it is home-ported here. Due to lack of acceptable dock space here, it is in Newport, Ore.

But Sullivan has it in writing from Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that the ship would be moved to Ketchikan if a dock could be built for it.

This required Sullivan to write legislation to change the law that prohibits NOAA from accepting nonfederal funds for dock construction.

Without the federal barrier, Ross told Sullivan earlier this month that the Fairweather could be consistently home-ported in Ketchikan as soon as fiscal 2020.

Sullivan floated the idea of the state funding the dock through the AIDEA.

Meanwhile, the City of Ketchikan is preparing a request for proposals in advance of a project to expand its port and upgrade uplands to accommodate cruise ships. Perhaps other ships, as well.

The Ward Cove Dock Group obviously has been collaborating with Norwegian Cruise Lines as it devises a project involving new dock space in the cove and uplands development. The group is talking about a $50 million private enterprise project.

All of this waterfront development at one point or another seemed fairly remote. Some of it has developed slowly over the past few decades, while others popped up quickly. Undoubtedly, all have encountered challenges.

All of that is noted in order to put the possibility of Ketchikan’s participation in Arctic development in perspective. By all current appearances, it is well off. But, the possibility still remains that it, too, will pop, and Ketchikan Shipyard also will have customers doing business in the Arctic.

Step by step, Ketchikan’s potential is being realized on the waterfront. Some now, and some will be later. But, at least, there is potential.