The city of Petersburg’s hopes to expand its boundaries into a big new borough to replace the existing city is raising concerns among some of its neighbors.
The new borough being proposed by Petersburg would stretch from Wrangell to the south to Juneau to the north, and west halfway across Kupreanof Island to Kake.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said he didn’t “object to the formation of the Petersburg borough and the dissolution of the City of Petersburg per se,” but he objects to the proposed boundary.
The state years ago adopted model borough boundaries, and some of the land between Petersburg and Juneau that Petersburg wants to incorporate into its new borough, including Tracy Arm and Hobart Bay, are slated for inclusion into the City and Borough of Juneau.
Petersburg city officials want to have a say in the “use or non-use” of neighboring areas by their residents.
And Petersburg City Clerk Kathy O’Rear pointed out that the Legislature in 2008 removed the “presumption” that the model boundaries must be followed.
Botelho, however, said some of those areas have long-standing ties to Juneau.
That includes 30,000 acres owned by Goldbelt Corp. at Hobart Bay. Tour boats from Juneau also ply Tracy Arm.
“There is a lot of use there, and it is done out of Juneau,” Botelho said.
Further, he said, Goldbelt’s property should be included in Juneau, if it is in any borough.
“Goldbelt is a Juneau-based urban Native corporation, and from my perspective, their assets should be within the boundaries of Juneau,” Botelho said.
Goldbelt has not yet publicly commented on the proposal.
Petersburg’s borough proposal challenged that.
“The territory north toward the current boundary of the City and Borough of Juneau has traditionally been and is currently used primarily by Petersburg area fishermen, hunters and recreationalists,” the city stated.
A Juneau committee studied the issue several years ago and said that the area should eventually be annexed into Juneau, but not immediately.
Petersburg disagrees about who should control that land, said O’Rear, the Petersburg city clerk.
“We think it should be Petersburg,” she said.
The Juneau commission studied the issue and recommended not taking any action to include those lands in the CBJ immediately, but to be prepared to defend the area from being included in any other borough, Botelho said.
“I supported the commission study, and its conclusions are as valid today as they were then,” he said.
The CBJ Assembly will meet in a work session Monday to discuss the issue.
The City of Kake, too, has concerns, said Edna Jackson, chair of a committee appointed by the Kake City Council to look at the issue.
She said Kake doesn’t object to Petersburg forming a borough, but doesn’t like that its proposal includes so much of Kupreanof Island, on which Kake is located.
“They can create their borough,” Jackson said. “We just would not like to have them in our backyard.”
The area that Petersburg is seeking to include in its new borough has long been thought of in Kake as part of its territory, she said, and has been recognized as such by outside experts as well.
“Our traditional territory is on Kupreanof Island,” she said.
The Kake committee will consider its own borough, as well, but Jackson said she didn’t know whether that was something the small city would want to do.
A borough might help Kake fend off unwanted annexation of land it thinks it has ties to, but could have additional costs as well.
“We have to look at all the ins and outs of it,” she said.
“For now, we’ve requested technical assistance from the state in forming our own borough,” she said.
For now, she said, Kake just wants to make sure Petersburg doesn’t expand too far towards Kake, without harming the relationship with Petersburg.
“We don’t want to make enemies out of any of our Southeast neighbors,” Jackson said.
Petersburg has disputed Kake’s claims to Kupreanof, saying that Wrangell-Stikine Tlingit, rather than Kake Tlingit, traditionally occupied at least a portion of Kupreanof Island.
The tiny city of Kupreanof, also on Kupreanof Island just across Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg, also appears to have concerns with the proposed boundaries of a Petersburg-based Borough.
Kupreanof officials were unable to provide comment, but the Petersburg Pilot newspaper reported the city had passed a resolution against the borough formation.
“We feel like we’re being pushed into something we haven’t asked for,” Kupreanof Mayor Dana Thynes told the Petersburg Pilot in February. “The borough is not going to do anything except reach into our pockets.”
Not all of Petersburg’s neighbors object to the new borough’s boundaries. The City and Borough of Wrangell, formed in 2008, would be the southern boundary of the new Petersburg borough.
“Wrangell doesn’t have any concern at all,” said Borough Manager Timothy Rooney.
The state’s model borough boundaries call for a combined Wrangell/Petersburg borough, but the two communities instead sought to form separate boroughs.
Both cities agreed what the borough lines would be, he said.
“We anticipated what the common boundary would be,” Rooney said.
Petersburg’s neighbors are continuing to discuss how to respond to its borough formation petition, including at a CBJ meeting Monday.
The state’s Local Boundary Commission will accept public comment on the new borough until Oct. 26.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.