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Northern SE communities worry about being annexed to Haines

Leaders of five towns meet to discuss possible options

Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

A simple question about annexation by a Haines official continues to send ripples through northern Southeast Alaska.

Leaders from five Glacier Bay-area communities plan to meet in Gustavus on Thursday to talk about ways to avoid being absorbed into the Haines Borough, including the possibility of forming their own borough.

Representatives from Hoonah, Tenakee Springs, Elfin Cove and Pelican have been invited to attend this week's meeting of the Gustavus Community Association.

Although Haines officials did not pursue the issue, the brief inquiry on how to annex Skagway and Gustavus was enough to raise concerns.

"(This) has been a wake-up call for us all," wrote Gustavus Community Association C0hairman Wayne Howell, in a letter to local residents. "Just the notion that Gustavus could end up hunkered here in the far corner of the Haines Borough sending our tax checks north has caused many of us some unsettled days."

The city of Skagway has filed a petition to form its own borough. The state received the paperwork on Jan. 22, less than a week after the annexation issue was raised in Haines.

Howell also has invited officials from the Haines Borough and the state Department of Community and Economic Development to speak at the meeting. He said the Haines officials will be asked about their annexation plan.

"We'll be there just for informational purposes; it will be very nonthreatening," said Haines Borough Lands Manager Dan Turner.

The state Local Boundary Commission in 1992 conducted hearings and concluded that Hoonah, Gustavus, Pelican, Tenakee Springs and Elfin Cove could fit into a model borough.

The city of Hoonah was looking into forming a borough with other Glacier Bay-area communities before the recent flap about annexation by Haines.

"We don't think it's a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Hoonah City Administrator Keith Bettridge said. "We've been looking at compiling a petition that all of the communities have input into a win-win situation."

The towns are feeling pressure from the state to incorporate or be annexed into organized boroughs, Alaska's equivalent of a county government. Dan Bockhorst, who works for the boundary commission, said the law presumes boroughs will encompass multiple communities and a population of at least 1,000.

The five Glacier Bay communities represented at Thursday's meeting in Gustavus have more than 1,500 residents. Hoonah and Pelican are first-class cities; Tenakee Springs, a second-class city; and Gustavus and Elfin Cove are not incorporated.

Howell thinks the Haines annexation issue may have been overblown.

"The story got out way ahead of the facts," he said. "But it also reveals the target of Haines' interest - the gateway communities and national parks lying just outside the borough boundaries - are two economic plums unprotected and ripe for the plucking."

Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com.



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