CBJ Assembly approves annexation petition

The City and Borough of Juneau will file an annexation petition with the state’s Local Boundary Commission tomorrow (Wednesday), seeking to incorporate roughly 1,952 square miles of unorganized land south of the current CBJ boundary.

The assembly voted 7 to 1 last night (Monday) in favor of an ordinance authorizing the petition. The dissenting vote was cast by new member Jesse Kiehl, who questioned the timing of the move.

Juneau is filing its annexation petition in response to the City of Petersburg, which wants to form a borough that includes the area in question. CBJ officials say the land most appropriately belongs with Juneau, pointing to model borough boundaries developed by the state more than 20 years ago that identified it for annexation to the Capital City.

During discussion on the matter, Kiehl asked City Attorney John Hartle why the sudden rush to annex it now.

“I suppose it was the manager’s and the mayor’s political judgment that if Juneau didn’t do something, then the Local Boundary Commission would near by default place those lands into the proposed Petersburg borough,” said Hartle.

Kiehl also questioned City Manager Rod Swope about what affect annexing the largely undeveloped and unpopulated area would have on Juneau’s budget. Swope said right now it would be negligible.

“At this point in time costs are minimal to virtually nonexistent,” Swope said. “And until which time there is actually any kind of significant development in that area, there would not be costs to us.”

Kiehl said he voted no on the ordinance because he didn’t think Petersburg’s move to incorporate the land was sufficient reason to trigger annexation by Juneau.

“If we had a very strong interest in these lands, we would have done better to be the first to file for them before the boundary commission, rather than to do so in response to one of our neighbors,” said Kiehl.

Last week Juneau filed a responsive brief to Petersburg’s petition to form a borough with the Local Boundary Commission. The brief doesn’t argue against the proposed borough, but says the disputed area has more administrative ties to Juneau than Petersburg.

Both communities will be able to make more arguments before that matter is settled, both in writing and at hearings before the boundary commission.

Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker was recused from last night’s discussion and vote on the annexation petition due to a conflict of interest.

Wanamaker is on the board of directors for Juneau Native Corporation Goldbelt. The company owns 30-thousand acres at Hobart Bay, in the area being contested by Juneau and Petersburg.

Goldbelt Vice President Derek Duncan reiterated the company’s desire to have the land remain unincorporated for now. But he said it could make its borough preference known soon.

“We will take into consideration how a borough government will affect the development of our economic opportunities at Hobart Bay. We will also continue to weigh what borough option is best politically for Goldbelt in the future,” said Duncan.

Sealaska, the regional Native Corporation for Southeast Alaska, owns about 20-thousand acres of subsurface mining rights in the same area as Goldbelt’s Hobart Bay land. But Sealaska officials say they’ll follow Goldbelt’s lead on expressing a borough preference.

The entire contested area consists of everything from the southern CBJ boundary, as far south as Cape Fanshaw and east to the Canadian border.