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Petersburg borough plan gets partial endorsement

Preliminary decision says Tracy Arm is better in Juneau

Posted: February 26, 2012 - 1:12am

The state’s Local Boundary Commission issued a preliminary report on Petersburg’s annexation petition Friday, rejecting most of the concerns expressed by the city’s neighbors.

The current City of Petersburg is hoping to unincorporate and reincorporate as a borough containing 4,346 square miles of land and water, an area larger than the City and Borough of Juneau.

Juneau fears the area Petersburg is seeking to annex runs right up to Juneau’s southern city limits. It incorporates areas Juneau city officials have long eyed as potential future additions of their own.

Those areas include the popular tourist area of Tracy Arm, and the Hobart Bay land owned by Goldbelt Inc., Juneau’s urban Native corporation.

The preliminary report appears to partly side with Juneau on Tracy Arm, saying splitting it between the two communities didn’t follow the LBC mandate to follow natural geographical boundaries.

While Petersburg’s proposal follows the current southern border of Juneau, that border “neither makes sense or conforms to natural geography,” the report states.

The LBC staff in the Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development “recommends that the proposed borough’s boundaries be amended by the LBC to exclude Tracy Arm and its watershed.”

The report also recommended that the nearby Whiting River and its watershed be excluded as well.

Less successful was Kake, where the city government, tribal government and Native corporation all expressed concerns about how far Petersburg wanted to encroach on their city.

Petersburg is located on Mitkof Island, but has a smaller incorporated neighbor called Kupreanof located across a strait on Kupreanof Island.

Petersburg’s annexation petition calls for taking the 27 residents of the community of Kupreanof into the new borough, as well as half of Kupreanof Island. Those borders would come within 15 miles of Kake’s.

The LBC staff said in its report although it respected the Kake residents’ concern borough formation would affect hunting, fishing and subsistence activities, that wasn’t enough to stop the annexation.

“Those activities of the Kake people would be unaffected because the regulation of those activities is a state function, not a borough function,” the report stated.

Many of Petersburg’s scattered neighbors outside the city limits, who the LBC called “outliers,” also objected to being made part of a new borough.

Those residents typically have their own generators, cisterns and septic systems and have little reliance on Petersburg city services.

“For reasons of lifestyle, travel, and philosophy, the outliers feel that they do not have much in common with Petersburg,” the report stated.

Still, they appeared to have more ties to Petersburg and more common interests than they may have acknowledged.

Some of the outliers, the report said, rely on Petersburg schools to educate their children.

“A well educated population benefits society, but it does cost,” the report said.

And the report questioned whether those outliers would live there at all if Petersburg did not exist, suggesting they were more reliant on Petersburg than they said.

The LBC relies on determination of common interest in annexation decisions.

“There are many differences, but enough similarities to show a common interest,” the report said.

The preliminary report found the people in the proposed borough met the requirement of having social, cultural and economic characteristics and activities that are integrated and interrelated.

Both the residents of the city and the people who live in the surrounding area rely on fishing and government for their economy, which ties them into a common interest.

“If they do not fish themselves, they live in an area whose economy is based upon fishing,” the report stated.

The report also used the interest in fishing to say most of the surrounding area was also tied to Petersburg, even when unpopulated.

The report said even those who objected to being annexed into Petersburg would get more of a say in local affairs that affect them, and could vote and even run for office themselves.

“Currently, when they shop in Petersburg, they pay sales taxes but have no say in how that money is spent,” the report said.

The commission will take public comment on the report until March 28.

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

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