Ward Cove Dock Project

The Ward Cove Dock Project extends out from the the old pulp mill on July 24, 2020. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek, File

Turnagain Marine Construction has been chosen for the National Environmental Enhancement Award by Associated General Contractors of America for the recently completed Ward Cove cruise ship dock.

The award to the Anchorage-based company was announced on April 1. According to information at the AGCA website, the award is under the “Construction Risk Partners Build America” category, which honors its members “who build the nation’s most impressive construction projects ranging across the building, highway and transportation, utility infrastructure, and federal and heavy divisions.”

The winning projects, the description continues, “with their vision, scope and grandeur, literally dare to challenge, dare to change the industry and the way we build.”

The Ward Cove Dock Group's dock is part of a collaborative project between the local Spokely family, which owns the former Ketchikan Pulp Company property in the cove and the Binkley family, which owns several businesses based in Fairbanks.

The Ward Cove Dock Group is owned by the Spokelys' Ward Cove Group and the Binkley's' Godspeed Inc. John Binkley is the president of Ward Cove Dock Group. Together, they have built the cruise ship dock, and are finishing a welcoming center and transportation hub for cruise ship passengers.

The new cruise ship dock was built in Ward Cove through a partnership with Norwegian Cruise Lines and is designed to moor two neopanamax ships at a time.

President of Turnagain Marine Construction Jason Davis was quoted in a letter announcing the dock project award that “we anticipated the environmental challenges from the initial concept and designed the project to protect past environmental cleanup actions and the abundant marine life in the cove.”

In an interview in his Ward Cove office Thursday afternoon, Binkley described some of the unique features of the dock building process.

The design of the dock was a collaborative project between the Binkleys, Spokelys and Turnagain designers, Binkley said.

Most strikingly, the dock does not run parallel to the shore, as do most ship docks, but it extends perpendicular to the shore, jutting into the deepest portion of the cove, offering not only room for two large cruise vessels, but other benefits as well.

Binkley explained of their thoughts during the planning stages, “if we turned it 90 degrees and we put the stern of the ships out into the extremely deep water — which is about 130 feet — that there would be far less scouring than you would see from these big ships with the big azipods and the high horsepowers.”

Preventing scouring of the bottom of the cove was especially important to protect the sand cap that was installed after the mill closed in 1997. The cap slows the decomposition of organic solids underneath, and has helped to return the cove to a healthy marine environment, according to the award letter from Turnagain.

The dock extends about a quarter mile into the cove from the shore, Binkley said.

Binkley described other aspects of the dock design that were considered in the award process.

“It’s very unique and I think this is one of the reasons that it won the award too, is that it reduced the number of pilings that were required,” he said.

The design called for larger pilings, one of the factors that allowed them to use fewer pilings, which allowed fewer penetrations of the seafloor. Binkley explained that the design of the dock was modified as well to create a more robust, unified structure while using fewer pilings.

“It works together with this one big, steel, massive structure underneath that ties all those pilings together to make it one piece,” Binkley said.

Adaptations to the way the reaction dolphins were placed in relation to the access ramp also helped to reduce the number of pilings, he added.

Binkley said, “It’s really fascinating, the engineering of it.”

Another aspect that helped to keep disruptions of the marine environment to a minimum was that the powdered rock material evacuated from drilling was evacuated onto a barge, tested for cleanliness, and was then was transported to an upland site.

Additionally, silt curtains were deployed to contain sediment while pilings were installed.

Before construction began, according to information from Turnagain, a sound source verification study determined the area where marine mammals might be affected by construction noise. During construction, observers monitored identified areas for the presence of the animals, and construction was stopped while they were present.

Other environmental protection measures taken before and during construction were water quality and turbidity testing, Binkley said. The turbidity testing was undertaken to make sure no silt was escaping into the cove’s marine environment.

He said that there were many “stringent requirements” to be met to satisfy federal environmental standards, as well as those of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“It was very daunting,” Binkley said. “The whole process was very daunting.”

He grinned and added, “But it’s fun. It’s great.”

He said of the award-winning contractor, “Turnagain Marine is such a great company. They’re so good to do business with. Really skilled people, very competent; do exactly what they say, communicate very well; safe in their operations.”

Binkley said, of the workers who actually handled the piling installation, “the pile bucks out there are just incredible. They are get-it-done types of guys. Whatever the issue is, the problem they run up against, they just solve it and keep their heads down and go.”

He said the pile bucks hailed from many locations in Alaska, including Ketchikan.

The award ceremony honoring companies chosen by the AGCA will be held at the organization’s annual conference which will be held in September in Orlando, Florida this year.

Binkley said he plans to attend with family members, Spokely family members as well as with Ward Cove Dock Group Director of Port Operations Shauna Lee.

Lee said of Turnagain’s award, during Thursday’s interview in Binkley’s office, “I’m very excited for them. It’s very well-deserved and they were so humble you know, the whole way through and just really dedicated to doing amazing work.”

She added, speaking of the entire cruise ship facility at the old mill site, it’s “going to be something that Ketchikan will have for generations to come, and I feel like the whole town should be very proud of it — that we did go from the mill and then so many people thought this was such a lost site, and just to see the life that’s been brought back into it. … it’s once again going to be an economic engine for the town.”