Petersburg’s neighbors are disputing the conclusions of a state report that says Petersburg should be able to annex into a new borough land that Juneau and Kake have their eyes on.
The city of Petersburg hoped to become the latest Southeast community to create a borough, unincorporating the city and incorporating a new borough taking in all the land between Wrangell and Juneau, as well as west across Kupreanof Island towards Kake.
Juneau objected to that plan, telling the state’s Local Boundary Commission that part of that area, including Tracy Arm and Hobart Bay areas, had stronger ties to Juneau than to Petersburg.
Juneau filed its objections with the LBC, a state agency that approves city and borough annexations and decides disputed boundaries. It issued a staff report last week recommending Tracy Arm be part of Juneau, but approving of Petersburg’s inclusion of Hobart Bay.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said the LBC staff’s preliminary report appeared to entirely disregard the information the city provided, especially with regards to Hobart Bay.
“For the most part, the staff did not take into account the response we filed with regards Juneau’s contacts with the area,” Botelho said.
“That, of course is troubling to us,” he said.
Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer praised the LBC staff recommendation, including saying its recommendation Tracy Arm be fully inside Juneau’s boundaries made sense.
“I think they did the right thing on that — Juneau had more of a claim to Tracy Arm than we do,” he said.
Dwyer continued to dispute Juneau’s claims to Hobart Bay, saying Petersburg fishermen have long used that area, much more so than those from Juneau.
“I think we have proof that we use that area for fishing,” he said.
What’s most important about Hobart Bay is the land surrounding it, Botelho said. Juneau-based Goldbelt Inc. owns Hobart Bay.
“Given the fact that Hobart Bay is wholly owned by Juneau’s urban Native corporation, that should play no small role in the determination,” Botelho said.
That’s just one of many links, he said.
“Juneau has had ongoing and substantive contacts over decades,” Botelho said. “I think those need to be taken into account.”
Dwyer asked why if the contacts were so strong, Hobart Bay was not originally made part of Juneau or annexed before Petersburg sought to do so.
“If Juneau wanted to annex, they had many years to consider it,” Dwyer said.
Other Petersburg neighbors expressed unhappiness with the LBC recommendation as well.
Petersburg wants to annex the area containing tiny city of Kupreanof, on Kupreanof Island, right across the channel from Petersburg.
The Petersburg Borough would also include a substantial portion of Kupreanof Island, on which the city of Kake is the largest community. Kake would not be included in the new borough, but the proposed entity’s borders would come within 15 miles of Kake.
Kake Mayor Henrich Kadake said he hasn’t been able to read the full report yet.
“I got as far as the part about Kupreanof Island and it was pretty upsetting,” he said.
He said the island has long been considered part of the area that the local residents rely on for subsistence.
He said local residents are very uncomfortable with Petersburg controlling the land on which they rely.
“That really disappoints us,” he said.
Kupreanof Mayor Dana Thynes said the LBC staff seemed to simply dismiss all of Kupreanof’s concerns as having no bearing on the issue.
She said the city had been afraid that would happen after the community of Meyers Chuck was forcibly annexed into the City and Borough of Wrangell some years ago, possibly setting a bad precedent, she said.
Meyers Chuck, too, is a remote community separated by water from a larger community.
The new borough would be able to collect property taxes the newly annexed areas. Thynes said local residents she has talked to are willing and even eager to support the schools, but the state has no mechanism short of donations to do so.
“The city of Petersburg doesn’t want our donations — they want control over our properties,” Thynes said.
The LBC staff report acknowledged there were currently no students from Kupreanof in the Petersburg schools.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
• This article has been changed to reflect the fact Meyers Chuck was incorporated into the City and Borough of Wrangell.