Census jeopardizes iceworm district

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2001

The release of community and area information by the U.S. Census Bureau on Monday triggered a 30-day deadline for the Alaska Redistricting Board to come up with a draft plan for new House and Senate districts to reflect population shifts.

The proposed map must be issued by April 18. A final map is due 60 days later.

Alaska grew overall by 14 percent, as the population increased to 626,932.

Juneau's population grew by 15 percent, as did Anchorage's. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough's population jumped 49 percent. The Kenai Peninsula Borough saw its numbers climb 22 percent, while Fairbanks grew by 6 percent.

The Western Aleutians, the Bristol Bay Borough and the Yukon-Koyukuk census area, which lost military bases, had drops in population.

In Southeast, the greatest speculation concerns House District 5, represented by Democrat Albert Kookesh of Angoon.

Known as the Iceworm District because it snakes through islands to connect dozens of small villages, it had 13,544 residents in the 1990 census. That dropped to 13,286 in the 2000 census. Although it's a slight decrease in absolute numbers, any decline contrasts sharply with growth in the state as a whole.

"Unless you grew by 14 percent or something (more), you're left behind," said Gordon Harrison, executive director of the redistricting board.

The "ideal" size for a House district this time will be 15,673 residents, compared to 13,751 in the previous redistricting, Harrison said. Each Senate district is two House districts.

Kookesh's district could be expanded to include Cordova, but that would reduce its concentration of Alaska Natives, something that would be watched closely by the U.S. Justice Department. Now, 4,652 residents of District 5 are Native, making it a "Native influence district."

There's also the danger that Southeast could lose a House seat, with District 5 broken up and reallocated to the other four House districts in the region. That would reduce Senate representation by one, as well, because District 5 is paired with Kodiak in Senate District C, represented by Republican Alan Austerman.

No change is expected in Juneau. House District 3, including downtown and Douglas and represented by Democrat Beth Kerttula, has 15,201 people. House District 4, including the valley and Auke Bay and represented by Republican Bill Hudson, has 15,589. Both populations are within permissible deviations from the ideal.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.

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