The new two-pier dock will be the first of its kind in Alaska.

In yet another example of the dedication cruise lines have to Alaska, two longtime Alaska families, the Spokelys from Ketchikan and the Binkleys from Fairbanks, have formed a joint venture – Ward Cove Dock Group – to build and operate a twin-berth dock in Ketchikan’s Ward Cove, home of the long-closed Ketchikan Pulp Mill.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has made a long-term commitment to bring ships to Ward Cove in exchange for preferential docking. The dock will be able to accommodate the largest cruise ships that call on the state, including Breakaway Plus Class ships, the Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy.

This is the third example in recent months of a partnership between private investor groups and cruise lines to build new docks or expand existing ones. Last year, Survey Point Holdings – comprised of Bob Berto, Ricky Smith and Jon Hemingway – teamed with Carnival Cruise Lines to buy the White Pass & Yukon Route’s rail and port operations in Skagway. The new owners quickly went to work to upgrade the aging facilities, including a “much-needed dolphin mooring at the end of the RR docks and a floating component at the Ore dock,” according to Berto.

In December, Huna Totem Corporation and Norwegian announced plans to build a second dock at Icy Strait Point to handle the new Breakaway Plus Class ships. Huna Totem Corporation broke ground on the project this spring with an anticipated completion date of 2020. The second dock is in a forested area about a half-mile from the existing dock. “We have the ability to develop it in a respectful way that allows all of the guests to have this wilderness experience without feeling crowded,” said Icy Strait Point Vice President of Operations Tyler Hickman.

For several years, the city of Ketchikan has been studying a potential cruise-dock expansion, estimated to cost anywhere from $50 million and $150 million, with the goal of relieving congestion downtown. The city has four downtown cruise berths but can handle just one of the very largest ships at a time.

“A cruise ship dock at Ward Cove represents the best opportunity to grow the tourism economy of Ketchikan while not overcrowding the downtown area. If we want the entire community of Ketchikan to grow, we need to spread out our visitors,” said Dave Spokely. He and his son, Andrew Spokley, are the owners of Power Systems & Supplies of Alaska, the company that bought the former pulp-mill site in 2011.

The pulp-mill site is about seven miles from Ketchikan’s historical downtown. The first phase, estimated at $50 million, will include construction of the dock, a passenger terminal and welcome center. Subsequent phases will involve developing the pulp mill’s other buildings and surrounding acreage. The floating double-sided dock will be the first of its kind in Alaska.

Ward Cove site plan

“We want to incorporate the history of what the pulp mill meant to the region and redevelop it as a new economic center that’s focusing on the major growing industry in southern Southeast, which is tourism,” said Ryan Binkley.

Ward Cove Pulp Mill in the 1970s.
Ward Cove today
Ward Cove today

Andrew Spokely said the goal of the project is twofold: “We must enhance the visitor experience and improve the quality of life for Ketchikan residents. That is what Ward Cove is all about.”

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