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Petersburg opposes inclusion in Juneau-based districts

Ketchikan seeks to join case to oppose Petersburg; Juneau sits out court challenge

Posted: August 25, 2011 - 10:05pm

Two Southeast communities are involved in a challenge to the state of Alaska’s redistricting plan, with Petersburg challenging its being lumped in with Juneau.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough, however, is seeking to join the court case to defend the plan.

Ketchikan fears if Petersburg is successful in getting the lines adopted by the Alaska Redistricting Board redrawn, some of the options might involve dividing the borough.

“If the court were to direct Redistricting Board to modify the redistricting plan with respect to Petersburg, some of the alternatives could require division of Ketchikan into more than one House district,” said Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen, in a motion filed with the court Thursday.

Petersburg has already challenged the Alaska Redistricting Board in court, filing its lawsuit challenging the plan before the statutory deadline. Now, in response to Petersburg’s suit, Ketchikan wants to join the case as well.

Declining relative populations in Southeast meant Juneau no longer qualified for two House of Representatives districts of its own, and several thousand additional residents would need to be added to keep district sizes close to equal.

The board rejected the city’s proposal to add in Haines, and instead added Petersburg. The final plan also adds Gustavus, Kupreanof and Tenakee Springs to the downtown Juneau district. Juneau’s valley district remains largely unchanged.

Juneau’s state senator would continue to represent both districts.

Juneau won’t be joining the lawsuit on either side, said Mayor Bruce Botelho.

“I see little reason for us to participate,” he said.

One of the reasons, he said, was it would be so difficult to redraw Southeast’s district boundaries that it is probably not going to happen.

Making any changes would involve disturbing a interlocking web, it probably couldn’t be done without violating the equal district size, community of interest or other standards that courts and laws have set out for redistricting, Botelho said.

“I think the likelihood the Southeast configuration would be changed is very unlikely,” said Botelho, the former attorney general for Alaska.

In Petersburg’s challenge, however, it said the board’s plan violates the Alaska Constitution because Petersburg is more like Sitka than the downtown Juneau district to which it is now been grouped.

“Petersburg is more closely integrated with Sitka and other smaller Southeast communities with which it has historically shared legislative representation,” the city’s lawsuit said.

When Redistricting Board member Peggy Anne McConnochie of Juneau proposed the plan to link Petersburg and Juneau, she said they both shared common interests, such as their fishing industries.

Petersburg’s legal challenge has been consolidated with a challenge from Fairbanks into a single case, expected to be heard in January. The new districts are scheduled to be used for the first time during the 2012 election cycle.

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

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