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PoV: Ketchikan should cooperate with Ward Cove Group


I’m reading the City of Ketchikan’s letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, dated Sept. 10 2019. As a disclosure, let me say that I have been and continue to be in the tourism business, and that I operated in and out of Ward Cove as captain/owner of Lighthouse Excursions Inc. for 19 years. That equates to over 5,000 trips in and out of Ward Cove.

The city makes some interesting points in its attempts to manipulate the COE to deny or delay the Ward Cove Group’s permit in order to protect the city’s income from the cruise ship industry. I hope the COE does not become an agency involved in preventing free enterprise from flourishing in order to protect a municipality’s source of income.

The city’s letter seems to focus on the assumption that it will be impacted by overcrowding of its infrastructure by the hordes of disembarking passengers arriving by bus from Ward Cove. At the same time the city argues to shut down Ward Cove Group’s plans so the city can afford to have improvements to its own port to accommodate four neopanamax cruise ships simultaneously docked with a passenger and crew count of about 6,400 each, for a total of 25,600.

Assuming Ward Cove is denied its plans, the Ketchikan harbor also may have a couple of ships at anchor for another 5,000 or so guests. So the City of Ketchikan’s goal seems to be 30,000 people a day in Ketchikan. Yikes!

Most people would say that’s a problem.

Most people would say Ketchikan would be congested with 30,000 visitors a day. Most people would welcome Ward Cove taking one-third of those out of the city’s mix.

The city seems to embrace the concept of cruise passengers arriving by neopanamax ships at its port, but has no plans to embrace cruise ship passengers by bus from Ward Cove. In fact, they claim that disembarking area for those visitors is Ward Cove Group’s problem, not the city’s.

Seems like we need a spirit of cooperation here.

Much of the city’s 11-page letter to the Corps of Engineers seems to be arguing with themselves. Lobbying to not have competition for cruise ship passengers so the city can increase its passenger count by rebuilding all four berths to neopanamax size and yet arguing that they can’t handle the increased visitor traffic from Ward Cove and spending millions on those four berths.

The city failed to even acknowledge the number of visitors that get on buses in downtown Ketchikan and travel to: Harriet Hunt, Whipple Creek, Knudsen Cove, Clover Pass, Salmon Falls, Totem Bight State Park, Settlers Cove, Revilla Road, Connell Lake, Refuge Cove State Park, Ward Cove and Green Bean Coffee. All of these need to be subtracted from the equation of congesting the N. Tongass Highway between Ketchikan and Ward Cove.

The city also fails to mention that thousands of people will more than likely be leaving Ward Cove, not on busses, but by boats and planes — sight-seeing vessels, charter fishing vessels, flight-seeing planes, paddle boats, kayaks — or that many visitors will be satisfied to stay in Ward Cove or generally north of town.

The city further fails to even discuss the possibility of marine transit of cruise ship customers from Ward Cove to Ketchikan and back.

It is time that the city cooperate with Ward Cove Group. The city should be thanking Ward Cove Group for helping “spread the crowd out” and being a part of the overall solution to keeping tourism and the cruise ship industry a vital part of our economy.

Rob Holston is owner of Tourism Hospitality & Entertainment LLC — Consulting Ketchikan Photo Safari.