Spokelys envision international business hub at Ward Cove
A pair of Ketchikan businessmen has an ambitious vision for Ward Cove.
Dave and Andrew Spokely, the father-and-son owners of Power Systems and Supplies of Alaska and logistics company Remote Made Easy, closed on a $2.1 million purchase of the pulp mill property Dec. 28.
The former home of Ketchikan Pulp Co. has been owned by the borough for nearly 15 years since the operation was closed in 1997, and now the Spokelys intend to create an international port at Ward Cove with a simple message — “Alaska starts here.”
The Spokelys’ vision is to create a “northern Ballard” homeport for commercial fishing vessels up to 120 feet in length as an alternative to the Seattle community where the industry has largely been based for nearly a century.
But the Spokelys aren’t just aiming to create a fishing harbor. They are planning for an industrial hub in the gateway to Alaska that will also serve the oil and gas, mining, transportation, tourism and timber industries.
Over the course of its development, the Spokelys anticipate some $150 million in improvements to the waterfront and upland properties at Ward Cove and eventually 300 or more jobs created for the area.
More harbor space for their own business — a unique Alaska venture that makes fast delivery of freight and fuel to remote locations throughout Southeast possible — got the Spokelys looking at the Ward Cove property.
With a waiting list of two years for boats 40 feet to 50 feet in length, there is no shortage of demand for dock space in Ketchikan, either. For many transient boats 100 feet or more in length, there often isn’t a place to tie up to take on fuel or supplies.
“A lot of vessels go by because they can’t find a place to park, or can’t get the full services,” Dave Spokely said. “We’ll be providing all services the fleets need to rebuild themselves, repair themselves and restock themselves.”
A major advantage for Ward Cove as the Spokelys develop the project will be drive-down ramp access to vessels, and they said the infrastructure improvements will provide immediate relief for the city’s packed small boat harbor.
Plans for 2012 are to move the Spokelys fuel station and freight business to Ward Cove, and construction of the drive down ramps for small boat access and barge off-load access and small boat harbor.
“Since we’re building new docks designed to support commercial vessels, we won’t be patching small boat harbors together with big boat harbors,” Dave Spokely said. “All of our ramps and floats, you’ll be able to drive a side-by-side four-wheeler down to your vessel. The connecting floats in between the fingers, you’ll be able to drive a pick-up down there.
“A lot of these fleets, they’re down their with wheelbarrows and four-wheel wagons trying to get stuff on their boats. That’s one of the biggest complaints with all of the fishing industry everywhere — how do I get a big battery down there? How do I get anything on there? They have to drive to a different ramp just to load their personal gear.”
Vessel fabricating and repair services at Ward Cove will complement the Alaska Ship and Drydock operation in Ketchikan, and the Spokelys will seek to attract the service businesses in electronics, communications, fabricating, welding, refrigeration and more required to support marine fleets.
“Our primary goal is not to own all the businesses, but to make space available for people who are already operating,” Dave Spokely said. “By February or March, we’ll be listing all the services we intend to bring here that are either undersized or not available to the fleets. We’ll give that to Ketchikan first. If we can’t grow it locally, we’ll make it available to Southeast, then we’ll go Outside. If we can’t find the service we’ll do it ourselves.”
The fuel, freight and logistics operations will be run by the Spokelys, who also will do float manufacturing and provide a “truck stop” facility with laundry, showers, personal and vehicle storage, sewage offload and oil change services.
The former pulp company location has 200,000 square feet of warehouse space the Spokelys intend to clean up for net repair, crab pot repair, boat fabricating and other services.
Being situated 700 miles closer to the Alaska fishing grounds than Seattle is just one of the advantages the Spokelys believe will attract vessels to Ward Cove.
It is one of the the largest non-freezing ports in Alaska and is totally protected with no breakwater needed. A large part of Ward Cove is more than 100 feet deep. Hydro-powered electricity runs about 9 cents per kilowatt hour, weekly barge service makes transportation costs competitive with Seattle and Alaska Ship and Drydock provides major repair capability.
There are also multiple daily flights between Seattle and Ketchikan at the state’s fifth-busiest airport.
The tax structure is also favorable, with no state sales or income taxes. There are city and borough sales taxes, but there are no personal property taxes at Ward Cove, which could make it attractive place to store inventory.
While the fishing fleets offer a wealth of business opportunity for the Spokelys, they are setting their sights on Alaska’s other major industries as well.
Ward Cove is large enough to host jack-up rigs for service or repairs, and as offshore exploration in the Arctic ramps up with Shell this summer and potentially others in the future the harbor can be a winter home for the flotilla of support and drill vessels.
As they’ve developed their logistics company, the Spokelys have become distributors for some tough-to-find drill parts for mineral exploration. As several Southeast mineral projects expand, including rare earth prospects at nearby Bokan Mountain, the Spokelys hope to attract business from the Canadian exploration companies doing much of the work in Alaska.
They’re also planning to work with OceansAlaska in Southeast for mariculture projects and fish enhancement, as well as improving the electrical infrastructure. The preliminary plans for Ward Cove also include an 18-megawatt wind farm.
Ketchikan is also just 90 miles from Prince Rupert in Canada, which has rail access to the Midwest and handles cargo to and from Asia. Consolidating and facilitating freight to and from Prince Rupert will be another service the Spokelys can offer.
“Our targeted campaign for our employees and all the people we talk to is, ‘Alaska starts here,’” Dave Spokely said. “You shouldn’t have to go Outside for anything. Alaska should be able to provide for its own.”
Andrew Jensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.