Juneau loses Supreme Court boundary beef to Petersburg

Update | 10:34 p.m.

The Alaska Supreme Court has settled a boundary dispute between Juneau and Petersburg affecting about 1,500 square miles of Southeast land. Under the decision the court issued Friday, Petersburg Borough boundaries will stand as they are.

Jensen Sanford Mead

Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen shakes hands with CBJ Attorney Amy Mead following arguments in Juneau Superior Court in 2013 on the Petersburg Borough incorporation petition. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen said his borough was ready for the decision.

“I think it’s good news, you know? Definitely for Petersburg. We’ve already been moving ahead like that was in our borough, so I’m glad to hear that it is,” Jensen said.

The previously contested land is almost completely uninhabited national forest — an old estimate puts the population at one. Still, local control and some revenue were at stake.

Petersburg Borough Manager Stephen Giesbrecht said the annexed land boosts state revenue sharing and some federal payments.

“If the borough formation would not have happened, our financial situation here in the borough would have been a lot different than it is today,” Giesbrecht said. “We’re like everybody else. We’re having to look for things to cut. But because of the borough formation, we’re not having to do it in ways that other communities have done.”

Petersburg fishermen are responsible for more than 90 percent of the commercial haul from the area; Juneau businesses and residents own most of the private land.

Goldbelt, Inc., Juneau’s urban Native corporation, owns about 30,000 acres in the annexed area around Hobart Bay. Since logging ended there in 1999, Goldbelt has explored turning it into a cruise ship destination, and planted seed for about 80,000 geoduck as part of an experimental aquaculture operation. Goldbelt anticipates Hobart Bay geoduck will be ready to harvest around 2023, according to its last annual report.

Attorney Amy Mead argued the case for Juneau before the Supreme Court in June. She said it was a worthwhile fight.

“I don’t necessarily consider it a loss,” she said. “We thought the law stood for something that needed clarification, and the court has now clarified. … I think it really solidifies that it’s the commission’s decision, how to frame the question in making a boundary determination.”

Since Mead is the City and Borough of Juneau’s staff attorney, fighting the case carried only incidental expenses.

Original story | 12:22 p.m., Dec. 4

The Petersburg Borough’s boundaries will stand as they are now that Juneau has lost its last legal challenge on the matter.

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision today upholding a lower court’s decision and the state Local Boundary Commission’s 2012 decision to grant Petersburg a huge boundary expansion. It puts to bed a dispute over about 1,500 square miles of Southeast Alaska both boroughs laid claim to.

The previously contested land is almost completely uninhabited national forest — an old estimate puts the population at one — but with the land goes potential federal receipts, some property and sales tax revenue and local authority.

Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen said his borough was ready for today’s decision.

“I think it’s good news, you know? Definitely for Petersburg. We’ve already been moving ahead like that was in our borough, so I’m glad to hear that it is,” he said.

City and Borough of Juneau attorney Amy Mead said she doesn’t necessarily consider it a loss.

“We thought the law stood for something that needed clarification, and the court has now clarified,” she said.

The Supreme Court heard the case in June.

This is a developing story, check back for updates. Coast Alaska’s Ed Schoenfeld contributed to this report.

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