Army Corps green-lights Ward Cove cruise ship dock

The view from atop the former Ketchikan Pulp Company’s roll storage building (Eric Stone/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

It’s official: the Army Corps of Engineers has green-lit a two-berth cruise ship dock on Ketchikan’s Ward Cove.

The Army Corps issued the permit Tuesday. Fairbanks investor John Binkley of the Ward Cove Dock Group says the hope is to get the berths in place for this season.

“We’ll probably be started next week with the actual construction,” Binkley said in a Wednesday phone interview. “The barge’ll be here — should be here by the end of the week, and then it’ll start getting positioned next week, and hopefully by the end of the week they’ll be ready to start putting piling in.”

He’s part of the partnership with Ketchikan investors David and Andrew Spokely who own the former Ketchikan Pulp Company mill site property. Norwegian Cruise Line is also investing an undisclosed amount of capital in exchange for preferential berthing.

Ketchikan city officials have shared reservations the project which is outside its jurisdiction. The city sent an 11-page letter to the Army Corps as it considered the permit application raising questions about the proposed dock’s impact on city revenue — some ships that currently pay Ketchikan head taxes could move over to Ward Cove — and transportation to and from the site seven miles north of downtown Ketchikan. 

The City Council commissioned a study to determine the impacts of the dock in October, but it’s unclear when that study will be completed.

Some residents along with state and federal regulators have raised questions about environmental consequences. Ward Cove contains waste from decades of discharge from the pulp mill. And there’s a potential to stir up legacy pollution at the bottom of the cove. The former Ketchikan Pulp Company was a major employer in the region from the 1950s up to the late 1990s.

Binkley says regulators addressed some of those concerns and folded them into the federal permit.

“There are quite a few requirements that go along with the permit,” he said. “One of those is called a benthic survey, a marine survey that’s going on right now.”

He says teams are surveying the bottom of the cove to determine the condition of the six-to-twelve-inch sand cap before construction gets started. That sand cap has allowed bottom-dwelling sea creatures to rebound since the pulp mill closed.

“And then after we’ve been in operation, we’ll do that again just to make sure that we’re not disturbing any of that marine life down at the bottom of the bay,” Binkley said.

The developers still plan to push for a summer opening date. Earlier projections were to have a permit in hand by December 1 — but the delay has pushed things back.

“So we’re behind a couple of months, but it’ll go fairly quickly,” Binkley said. “We’ll be ready sometime this summer.”

Binkley says the uplands — the former mill site where Binkley says cruise passengers will disembark — will be ready around the same time.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that dive teams are surveying the bottom of Ward Cove. In fact, crews are taking samples of the sea floor remotely from a vessel on the surface.