Our congratulations go to the Ward Cove Dock Group for its remarkable accomplishment, which was highlighted Wednesday by the first cruise ship to arrive at its new dock at the former pulp mill site in Ward Cove.
History was made when the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Encore made its way into the cove under Ketchikan’s trademark grey skies and rain. Ward Cove has seen log transport ships, state ferries and any number of other vessel types over the years, but nothing with the sheer magnitude of the 1,094-feet-long, 169,000-gross-ton cruise ship. It was a sight to behold.
And an accomplishment to recognize.
Longtime Ketchikan residents know much of the history of Ward Cove, especially as it pertains to the former Ketchikan Pulp Company and its pulp mill. When the pulp mill closed in 1997, the site’s future was as unclear and unsettled as a blustery October day in Ketchikan. It wasn’t until 2011 that some potential clarity arrived when Dave and Andrew Spokely’s Power Systems and Supplies of Alaska purchased the site from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.
But a cruise ship dock wasn’t on their horizon in 2011. At the time of the purchase, the Spokelys listed a variety of other potential enterprises. Those included companies to build boats, modular float, and specialty welding and metal fabrications. There was talk of a commercial and industrial marina, and a commercial and industrial harbor with a drive-down ramp, along with other options for development of the uplands areas.
Meanwhile, the cruise industry continued to grow in Alaska. In 2011, Ketchikan anticipated the arrival of about 788,000 passengers by cruise ship. By 2018, the number had topped 1 million — and the City of Ketchikan had begun to discuss new infrastructure downtown to accommodate more growth.
Then, on June 10, 2019, a new entity called Ward Cove Dock Group announced its plan to build a T-shaped dock for cruise ships in Ward Cove.
One of the 50% partners in Ward Cove Dock Group is the aforementioned Power Systems & Supplies of Alaska. The other 50% partner is Godspeed Inc., owned by members of the Binkley family.
At the time of the announcement, it was noted that Norwegian Cruise Line would be participating in some of the dock project construction costs in exchange for preferential berthing rights.
The announcement instantly altered calculations regarding downtown dock expansion — and any number of other business and local government decisions related to the cruise ship industry in Ketchikan. Indeed, the full effects of the new dock are yet to be seen.
But true to the new company’s word, a new dock began to take shape in Ward Cove. The pandemic meant that new cruise ships could not call there in 2020, and it wasn’t until May that it became clear that ships were possible in 2021.
Then, on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, the Norwegian Encore pulled up to the Ward Cove Dock Group’s new dock and launched the next chapter of economic activity at Ward Cove.
Congratulations to the Spokelys, who in 2011 took a chance in purchasing an old industrial site with the idea of seeing what they could accomplish with it. Congratulations to the partnership with Godspeed Inc., and the combined company’s vision of a transformational development for Ward Cove and the former pulp mill site. Congratulations to all involved for seeing the project through to the arrival of the Norwegian Encore and the start of operations.
We don’t know what the future holds. We have a strong feeling, though, that Aug. 4, 2021, will be remembered as an historic day for Ketchikan.