Redistricting board links Skagway, Petersburg to downtown Juneau

Court challenges expected after final plan adopted in two weeks
Fishing vessels in Aurora Harbor are shown on Wednesday. Members of the Alaska Redistricting Board say Skagway, Petersburg, and Juneau are all fishing communities and will be joined together in a new House District.

The Alaska Redistricting Board is redrawing Juneau’s political boundaries at a meeting in Anchorage.

 

The most dramatic changes may not be for Juneau residents, but for residents of Petersburg and Skagway, which will be included in House District 3.

That’s the downtown-centered district that Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, currently represents.

Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz’ House District 4 will change only slightly.

It will be fully within the boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau, and will continue to be dominated by the Mendenhall Valley.

The most notable change to that district is that it will absorb the area around the airport, and the dividing line between the two districts will move to south of Fred Meyer, located at 8181 Glacier Highway.

“Fascinating,” was the comment from Mayor Bruce Botelho after the board’s unanimous action Wednesday.

Botelho, and every other observer of the redistricting process, say the June 14 deadline for the board to submit its final plan is only an early step in the process.

“It’s almost a certainty that once there is a final plan there will be litigation,” said Botelho, a former Alaska attorney general.

The city itself had presented the board with two possible options to consider, one of which added Skagway and one adding Petersburg. Instead, the board added both, but in a different pairing.

Board member Peggy Ann McConnochie of Juneau proposed the map to the board, and said it met the requirements of keeping districts contiguous and linking like-communities together.

“Downtown Juneau is a cruise ship port; Skagway is a cruise ship port,” McConnochie said.

At the same time, Petersburg is one of Alaska’s principal fishing ports, and much of Juneau’s fishing-related activity is included in the downtown district, she said. That includes two boat harbors that are home to numerous commercial fishing boats, Taku Smokeries/Fisheries, and other aspects of the fishing industry. Two important hatcheries are also in the district, Snetttisham and Douglas Island Pink and Chum’s Channel Drive facility.

“Skagway also has some commercial fishermen operating out of there, and that connects them too,” she said.

Other members of the board agreed with McConnochie.

“Skagway, Juneau and Petersburg are all fishing ports, to some degree,” said another member of the board.

Downtown Juneau and Skagway are contiguous over the Juneau Ice Field, she said.

From the crude maps provided Wednesday, it appears that Gustavus, Tenakee Springs, Hobart Bay and Kupreanof are all also in House District 3.

Botelho said it appeared to him that the Southeast districts appear to comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act that a Native-influenced district be created, if a Native-majority one is not possible.

House District 2, based around the population center of Sitka, also includes many of the Southeast’s Native villages and is 37 percent Native.

“There was clearly an effort to preserve at least a Native-influenced district,” Botelho said.

One step the board could have taken to increase the Native-percentage of House District 2 even further would be to have included Saxman in it. That tiny community, surrounded by Ketchikan, made it clear that it wanted to remain in the same district as its larger neighbor, board members said.

In addition, little Kupreanof, across from Petersburg, wanted to remain linked to Petersburg, and was, they said.

An earlier draft of the plan that divided Sitka into two separate House district was widely criticized, and appears to have been abandoned.

In southern Southeast, Ketchikan and Wrangell, two of the state’s most staunchly Republican communities, are grouped in House District 1.

Botelho said while legal action is expected no matter what boundaries are drawn, it sounds like the board made no obvious mistakes in the Southeast portion of the plan.

“The configuration you are describing is not offensive to me in terms of constitutional standards,” Botelho said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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