After years of public debate in Sitka concerning a city-owned dock for large cruise ships, a private company has made the surprise decision to build its own cruise-ship pier.

The new dock will be about 1,000 feet in length — long enough to accommodate the largest ships sailing in Alaska (which currently belong to Princess Cruises, the only operator of post-Panamax tonnage on “The Last Frontier”) — and will include an access ramp for tour vehicles.

As the original capital of Alaska, Sitka is known for its Russian colonial heritage, including the onion-domed landmark St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, as well as its colorful Native American cultural traditions, like towering totem poles (pictures left). It is the longtime home of the New Archangel Dancers and the site of Alaska’s oldest national park. Cruise lines that call in Sitka include Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Silversea Cruises.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s capital city and most popular port, Juneau, has more than US$60 million in port improvements on tap from the 2011 through 2014 cruise seasons. Projects include a new visitor center and the replacement of two city-owned cruise ship piers. In Ketchikan, known by its nickname “Alaska’s First City,” officials say they’ve received funding for refurbishments to berths 1 and 2 downtown that could eventually amount to US$26 million; work is scheduled to begin in the fall and run through spring 2015. The city previously had spent nearly US$40 million on pier expansion projects to berth 3 (opened June 2007) and berth 4 (opened May 2008).

If you’ve cruised Alaska before, what did you think of the state’s port facilities?