After an hour of hearing public comment urging them not to do it, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members voted Monday to apply to extend the borough’s boundaries.
City staff will draft an application to the state’s Local Boundary Commission. The petition includes four areas, three of which are on Admiralty Island and an area of land between the CBJ and the Petersburg Borough that includes Tracy Arm.
There will be a public comment period on this application before it gets sent, and another one as the LBC considers the application. If the LBC approves of Juneau’s application, it will then go to the Legislature for final approval, City Attorney Amy Mead explained Monday.
The Assembly chambers were overflowing with people Monday, and 17 people spoke to the Assembly members. All who spoke were opposed to the borough’s boundaries expanding farther onto Admiralty Island, and reactions ranged from disappointment to anger after the 5-4 vote to go forward with annexation.
Melissa Kookesh, the chairwoman of the board of directors of Kootznoowoo, Inc. (a tribal corporation for the Tlingit people of Angoon) presented a resolution from her board that stated unanimous opposition to the annexation. Afterward, she said she appreciated the four no votes but was particularly displeased that Mayor Ken Koelsch cast the tie-breaking vote.
“I’m thankful for the no votes, for the opposition, because it was four to five, and of course the mayor had to break the tie,” Kookesh said. “I’m disappointed, of course.”
Along with Koelsch, Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis and Assembly members Mary Becker, Maria Gladziszewski and Beth Weldon voted in favor of annexation. Assembly members Rob Edwardson, Norton Gregory, Loren Jones and Jesse Kiehl voted against it.
The arguments for annexation
The main reasoning given for annexing the areas of land, which include Funter Bay, Glass Peninsula and Pack Creek on Admiralty Island, is that the majority of the areas in question are included in the so-called “model borough boundary” identified by the LBC. In the early 1990s, the LBC conducted research and identified the land that should go to each borough.
Juneau’s current borough boundaries do not include some sections of the model boundary, and annexing these areas would push Juneau’s boundaries out to its model boundary. This, as city officials have explained in past meetings, would guarantee that the land identified as land for Juneau would go to Juneau instead of another nearby borough such as Petersburg.
There are very few people who live in these areas year-round, though some Juneau residents have cabins near Funter Bay. Those residents would pay property tax on those properties if the land ends up being annexed.
In 2007, the city commissioned an in-depth study into whether annexation was a good idea. The study recommended that pursuing annexation at that time was “not necessary or warranted” but that it could be appropriate in the future.
Edwardson objected to going forward with the application, saying he didn’t understand what members of the public had to gain from this expansion.
“We all came to these positions … to serve the public, to serve the public interest,” Edwardson said, “and I’m still struggling with, what is the public interest with annexing these areas? What’s the public interest for me as a citizen of Juneau or for people who have property that could be annexed soon?”
City Manager Rorie Watt responded that having Funter Bay residents pay property tax would go to maintaining Juneau’s city-owned hospital, airport, harbors and other services.
The arguments against annexation
Many of the people who have houses by Funter Bay are not year-round residents. Some of them were at the meeting Monday night, including Janet Clarke-Kennedy.
“To us, annexation of Funter Bay seems to be similar to the capital move,” Clarke-Kennedy said. “Even when we feel that it’s been dealt with and defeated, it pops up again.”
For the people of Angoon, the issue of Juneau expanding its borders farther onto Admiralty represents something deeper than taxes.
Angoon Mayor Pauline Jim was one of the more passionate speakers during the meeting. Jim, 72, moved slowly up to the microphone using a cane that had a beaver carved at one end and a raven on the other. She chose to stand as she gave her testimony instead of sitting like most of the other speakers, and said she feared this annexation won’t be the last.
“If (you) get a little portion of our land already and another step,” Jim said, “whether it’s another eight or 10 years, you’re going to be back to annex more of our land until you’re coming in our back door.”
Jim took over as mayor in October in Harriet Silva’s place, Jim said. Prior to that, Juneau city officials were trying to set up a meeting with the Angoon government but Angoon officials were never able to do so. In September, Silva wrote a letter to the city opposing any further annexation on Admiralty.
Kiehl proposed taking one of the areas of land — the one containing Glass Peninsula — out of the application, but that motion was voted down. Assembly members have debated about whether to apply for the areas of land all at once, and eventually settled on packaging them all together.
It’s more efficient that way and it helps Juneau get the first crack at these areas of land. Applying for areas first is important in expanding borough borders, as Juneau learned the hard way in 2015.
When the Petersburg Borough was first formed, it applied for an area of land that was inside Juneau’s model borough boundary — that is, land that Juneau doesn’t own but that it should, in theory, have priority on. Juneau then quickly filed an appeal, but the Alaska Supreme Court ended up siding with Petersburg for the land, which included the Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area.
Kiehl in particular lamented that the Assembly has to act so fast with this application in order to have a better chance at getting the land in question. Edwardson was wary about many aspects of the decision.
“I don’t know how much any of this is going to cost,” Edwardson said. “I don’t know how much revenue it’s actually going to generate for Juneau. I think we’re asking for a lot of problems for not much or maybe no money.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.