Mat-Su borough fastest-growing region in Alaska

Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011

JUNEAU — The Matanuska-Susitna Borough was the fastest-growing region of Alaska over the past decade, growing by 50 percent, according to the 2010 Census data released Wednesday.

The U.S. Census Bureau put the population of the borough north of Anchorage at 88,995 last year, up from 59,322 in 2000. That makes it the third-largest region in the state, ranking behind Anchorage, which had 291,826 people in 2010, and the Fairbanks-North Star Borough, which had 97,581.

The census bureau identified the Yukon-Koyukuk region as losing the greatest percent of population over the decade: 14.7 percent. Its population fell from 6,551 to 5,588.

Statewide, Alaska gained 83,299 residents between 2000 and 2010, bringing its total population to 710,231. One of the least populous states, it became slightly more diverse, with the number of residents who are black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander growing since 2000.

The number of white residents also grew but its percentage of the overall population was marginally smaller, going from 74 percent to 73.1 percent.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough, or Mat-Su, includes former Gov. Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla. The region is a veritable outdoor mecca, with stunning mountain views, and Wasilla is home to virtually every type of box store imaginable.

“The pioneer life can be here. There are people with the outhouse but also the beautiful, extravagant home,” said Patty Sullivan, a borough spokeswoman. “And the uniqueness: You can drive to work, and there on your right is a dog musher and team training.”

There are downsides to rapid growth, too, she said: fire calls are going up, and an undivided, two-way road leading to one of the area’s most populous communities is considered one of the state’s most dangerous.

These numbers underscore the expectation that the Mat-Su will gain representation in the Legislature when the state Redistricting Board redraws political boundaries. The board has until mid-April to develop draft plans; its 60-day clock for coming up with a final plan began Tuesday, when it received census numbers.

The ideal district size identified by the Redistricting Board is 17,755 people. House District 14, which covers the greater Wasilla area, has 23,682 people, according to a board analysis of the census figures. House District 15, which includes rural Mat-Su, has 25,974.

Some of the biggest losses, according to the district-level analysis, were seen in southeast Alaska and a huge swath of the Interior. Lawmakers have anticipated the loss of at least one rural district when the new political map is drawn.

The least-populous existing districts, according to the analysis, are House Districts 5 and 6, which, include Cordova and the Southeast Islands, and the Interior villages, respectively. The population of District 5 fell 22 percent to 13,846 people. District 6’s population declined 20 percent to 14,235.

Rep. Kyle Johansen’s district also took a hit, losing 19 percent of its population. District 1, which includes Ketchikan, has 14,333 people. Ketchikan has tried to market itself more as a tourist destination as the once-dominant timber industry has fallen off.

He said he and other southeast lawmakers can stand together as one voice for the needs of the region and also work to attract more opportunities to the area.

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