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Open Letter: Objections to Ward Cove Proposal

By Cruin MacGriogair


September 21, 2019
Saturday AM

To whom It May Concern: (Letter sent to Army Corps of Engineers)

I am writing as a resident of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, to notify you of my concerns and objections to the “Ward Cove Proposal” to build a large cruise ship dock in Ward Cove, North of Ketchikan, which would accommodate the largest cruise ships, with preferential docking for Norwegian Cruise Line ships.

Even though my own business (a small private tour company) will be undamaged, or possibly enriched, by this development, I object to this development on three grounds:

  1. Economic Damage to Ketchikan.
  2. Congestion and stress damage to Ketchikan's Infrastructure, and quality of life.
  3. Environmental Damage to Ward Cove.

Economic Damage to Ketchikan.

In the short term, and for the next ten years or so, Ketchikan will lose the dock and portage fees from these ships, perhaps 25% of our income from our port. Yet we will still have to support the infrastructure and support for the passengers of these ships, many of whom will want to come to Ketchikan, and we will have to support the buses (or boats) needed to transport them from Ward Cove, with streets, parking, emergency services and so on.

Congestion and stress damage to Ketchikan's Infrastructure, and quality of life

In the longer term, we will either lose that revenue source forever (the income lost from port fees from these ships) or, perhaps worse, replace it by bringing in more cruise ships to the downtown dock. This is a double-edged sword. If we want to replace the income, we must accept perhaps as many as an additional 6,000 travelers a day. Many people in our community were already feeling the stress of hosting the number of visitor we already have – on some days as many as 14,000 visitors, and a few thousand crew members, to a town of 8,000 people. There were active discussions, at city council meetings, of limiting or capping the number of visitors, and not pursuing dock expansions that would increase the number of travelers. 

The move by NCL does an end-run round those discussions. Now it is NCL and its partners who are dictating the number of visitors we must host, rather than the people of Ketchikan and their elected representatives.

Environmental Damage to Ward Cove.

Ward Cove's environment was seriously compromised by the Pulp Mill that used to be there (the property now owned by the Ward Cove Group). A mass of logs and pulp fiber was left on the floor of the cove, leading to anaerobic conditions, and the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide. This is a lethal combination for sea life – the carbon dioxide stupefies them to unconsciousness, so they fall to the sea floor to be suffocated or poisoned by CO2. 

Cleaning up this pollution was deemed, by the EPA and the pulp mill owners, to be unfeasible. So instead, a partial solution was put in place: the polluted area was covered with a cap of sand, thus creating a barrier between it and the waters above. At least by the observations of local residents, boaters, and fishermen, this solution has, at least in part, been successful. The salmon and stealhead runs into the creek and up to Ward Lake have steadily recovered in the last 20 years. Now seals and otters can once more be seen playing in the inner Ward Cove, and the whole place looks and smells healthier.

How long the organic mass of logs and pulp fiber will take to slowly, eventually, “burn away” (because that is, essentially, what is happening under the sand cap) no one seems to know. Might take tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years. But at least the harmful CO2 (and lack of O2) is contained, and marine animals, whether benthic or pelagic, have better chances to avoid it.

The neo-panamex ships that NCL and the Ward Cove Group intend to bring into Ward Cove have enormous main propulsion azipods and bow and stern thrusters. Ward Cove Group, in a public meet and greet, showed videos of how the ships would nose into and back out of their berths, while only using their aft thrusters in deep water, thus not disturbing the sand cap.

This is delusional. Usually, it is the captain who drives a ship into of dock. He is the person responsible for any damage, or injury, or loss of life during this procedure. When pressed by adverse current, waves, or wind, he will not hesitate to use every thruster and propulsion system at his disposal to avoid any damage to the ship, the dock, or persons standing on the dock.

Before any big ships dock in Ward Cove, we need a new environmental assessment of the damage they might do. It would be nice to get an assessment of what is happening today, under the sand cap, how likely it would be for the wash from big ship propulsion systems to disturb those caps, and what damage to the cove might result from such a breach.


The proposed Ward Cove neo-panamex docks would cause serious and deleterious damage to Ketchikan's economy, environment, and quality of life. The potential environmental damage to Ward Cove needs studied more fully. This development should be denied permanently (as a totally bad idea), or at least until these issues can be adequately resolved.

At the very least, there needs to be more public input on this proposal, in the form of public forums, so the will of the people of Ketchikan can be assessed and evaluated.

Yours Sincerely,

Cruin MacGriogair.
Ketchikan, Alaska

Original Letter Sent to Core of Engineers on Ward Cove
From: Cruin MacGriogair
owner Ketchikan Tours 

To: Estrella Campellone
Army Core of Engineers




Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.


Received September 19, 2019 - Published September 21, 2019

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