SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Ward Cove Park for Innovative Economic
and Environmental Renewal (PIEER)

By Alethea Johnson , Larry Jackson, Katie Jo Parrott, Wayne Weihing & Joanna Desanto


October 23, 2009

Twelve years after the closure of the Pulp Mill, Ketchikan is still grappling with how to handle Ward Cove. The Borough Assembly is poised to dispose of Ward Cove as quickly as possible and we understand their urgency. After all, we have been "sitting" on the property for a long time and it costs the Borough money every day to maintain it. One of the options under consideration is auctioning it off in pieces without any overall plan. But Ward Cove's greatest potential will not be realized by a scattershot approach to development. Rather, what would most benefit this community is a creative and comprehensive plan for the long term use of Ward Cove that encourages stewardship of the property.

The Borough currently owns approximately 220 contiguous acres of uplands and tidelands at Ward Cove, which are accessible both by water and by the existing highway. Within those acres are forested areas, lots of waterfront, deep water in the cove and an adjacent creek, which give it tremendous potential for mixed use. In addition to the natural features, it also has acres of flat land available for future development. This is an asset we have nowhere else on the island and will never have again. Let's make the most of it.

There are several benefits for the community in casting a vision and making a long term plan for the property. For one thing, members of this community would like to take pride in the appearance of our waterfront and the way we use our resources. We would like to see a progressive approach to development that includes environmental and aesthetic considerations, such as renewable energy and green spaces. Even more importantly, we can effect Ketchikan's self-sufficiency by the type of industry we encourage at the site. A comprehensive plan would facilitate the most efficient management of Ward Cove because the property may easily be divided into sections designated for appropriate uses. And if we were to integrate public and private uses of the property, Ward Cove could also be a place for people to gather and enjoy the waterfront.

Of course, industry would have to be primary in order to sustain Ketchikan's economy over the long term. We need to take advantage of Ketchikan's natural assets and invest in manufacturing and other industries that make sense for this region, such as affordable pre-engineered homes, a shell fish hatchery, and countertops made from recycled glass. A variety of niche industries would diversify and stabilize our economy, reducing our dependence upon large-scale tourism and government subsidies. We could even take advantage of cutting edge science and technology to reclaim our identity as the First City. By leaning into the future with an innovative economy, Ketchikan could become a model community in Southeast Alaska that fosters stewardship of the land.

In addition, the wooded area on the point would lend itself to amenities such as a trail system and a park (and the shellfish hatchery slated to go into that area would be compatible with recreational use). Other potential uses of uplands near the highway include light commercial businesses, educational facilities and a community garden. A portion of the cove might also serve as a marina with docks and amenities on the waterfront. Presently there are large pieces of unusable land on the site. If we implemented a plan, we could close those gaps to achieve the best and highest use.

Right now the community perceives Ward Cove as a financial burden, a polluted no-person's land, and an embarrassment. The Borough Assembly wants it gone, and has adopted a marketing plan with options (alternatives) for selling the property, drafted by Deborah Hayden, the Economic Development Manager. There have been many prospective buyers, but the real obstacles to sale and redevelopment are the EPA covenants on the land due to uncertainty about levels of toxicity. This condition makes it difficult for prospective buyers to get financing for purchase and redevelopment. Yet the Borough doesn't want to spend any money to improve it, clean it up, or challenge EPA restrictions. Given these obstacles to an easy sale of what is otherwise desirable waterfront property, it makes sense for the Borough to get proactive about restoration of the land as part of the marketing plan. And in the mean time, we could also be working on a plan for redevelopment that would serve the long term interests of the community as a whole. Once we have a vision for it and have made it feasible and attractive for prospective buyers, it will be easy to market the property and guide the development.

If we simply chop up the former pulp mill site, sell it in chunks and watch it develop in a piecemeal fashion, we may get it on the tax rolls a little faster, but we probably won't be very satisfied with the results. And no matter what we do, we will still own it, as Deborah Hayden pointed out at a recent PLEDAC meeting. The Borough Planning Department will continue to oversee zoning and permitting, Ketchikan will be affected by the uses (or lack of use) of the property, and Ward Cove will continue to be part of our landscape forever.

Ward Cove is like a diamond in the rough for this community. Before we make another rash move to dispose of it, let's assume real ownership of the property and develop it into a jewel on Ketchikan's waterfront that will bear dividends for generations to come.

Ward Cove PIEER Group Steering Committee:

Alethea Johnson
Larry Jackson
Katie Jo Parrott
Wayne Weihing
Joanna Desanto
Ketchikan, AK

Received October 22, 2009 - Published October 23, 2009


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