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Commission to look at Juneau, Petersburg petitions

Posted: November 25, 2011 - 1:04am

The state’s Local Boundary Commission will decide next month whether to consolidate a request by the City and Borough of Juneau to annex land with a competing request by the city of Petersburg for that same land, setting up a fight over territory that Petersburg had hoped to include in the state’s newest borough.

At stake is 1,952 square miles that both cities desire.

Petersburg’s borough formation petition got the jump on Juneau when the city filed in August to form a borough from land that many in Juneau has long assumed would eventually become part of the capital city.

To head off the loss of that land to Petersburg, Juneau filed objections to the formation of the Petersburg borough during the public comment period, but City Manager Rod Swope said in an affidavit filed with the commission Juneau is only objecting to the boundaries.

“The City and Borough of Juneau respects the right of the people of Petersburg to seek incorporation, and only opposes their petition to the extent that it asks the LBC to approve incorporation of an area more appropriately annexed to CBJ,” Swope wrote.

Petersburg’s detailed, 191-page borough-formation petition had been in the works for years, city officials there said. Juneau, in its 74-page response filed during the public comment period on the Petersburg petition, challenged the justification for inclusion of the disputed territory in Petersburg.

Now, the commission this week announced it will decide during its Dec. 14 meeting whether to look at Juneau’s annexation petition for the same territory jointly with Petersburg’s petition, potentially putting both communities on equal footing.

State policy calls for the state’s vast unorganized areas to be included into boroughs where possible. Some in Juneau had feared the 1,952-square-mile area would be included in Petersburg by default if Juneau didn’t act quickly to assert its own claims to the area.

Juneau’s commission filing contests many of the reasons given by Petersburg for that area to become part of Petersburg. Much of the area has stronger ties to the mining, logging and recreation industries of Juneau, the city said.

The only year-round resident of the disputed area is an employee of the Juneau-based Native corporation Goldbelt, Inc, which owns 30,000 acres in the Hobart Bay area, Juneau’s filing said.

“The CBJ can find no evidence of any other full-time residents in the contested area despite Petersburg’s assertions otherwise,” Juneau’s filing stated.

Juneau said the area in question had previously been recognized by the commission as an “unorganized remnant” of the City and Borough of Juneau, but Petersburg contested that in its own filings.

Petersburg officials said that the “model borough boundaries” on which Juneau was relying were developed many years ago and much has changed since. Evidence of which city is most interested in controlling the areas is best shown by the fact that Juneau did not annex it for years, and didn’t petition to do so until Petersburg did, they said.

“I don’t think they will get anywhere with their petition,” Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer said, according to the Petersburg Pilot newspaper.

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

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