Juneau appeals Local Boundary Commission’s Petersburg borough decision

Petersburg Proposed Borough Map

A map of the proposed Petersburg Borough. Map by the Department of Commerce Local Boundary Commission.

The City and Borough of Juneau is appealing a decision by the state’s Local Boundary Commission on the northern boundary of a proposed Petersburg borough.

Petersburg area residents will be voting in December on forming a new borough that would encompass more than 3,800 square miles of land and water in Southeast. Juneau filed a competing petition to the Local Boundary Commission seeking to annex some of the same mainland area between the two communities.

“Our main argument is that the LBC failed to critically analyze the CBJ’s competing claims as to that area that overlaps between the two petitions filed by the city and borough of Juneau and Petersburg and that the LBC was obligated to do so before making a decision on Petersburg’s petition pursuant to Article 10, section three of the Alaska Constitution,” says Juneau’s Assistant City Attorney Amy Mead.

Juneau filed its annexation petition about seven months after Petersburg’s incorporation petition. The CBJ sought to consolidate the two, or at least postpone the Petersburg decision. However, the commission denied that request late last year and this year decided the Petersburg incorporation should go to a vote.

Former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who supports the appeal, says it’s not meant to delay or stop the Petersburg election.

“Juneau has never objected to the idea of Petersburg becoming a borough. That’s a decision, which the residents of Petersburg get to decide,” Botelho says. “The question is whether the extent of that borough should encompass the areas of the mainland including Hobart Bay and north.”

Botelho maintains the Capital City has a superior claim to that disputed land. The contested territory originally was over 1,900 square miles on the mainland near Tracy Arm. The boundary commission in its decision in June voted to remove Tracy Arm and Whiting River from Petersburg’s proposed borough, a difference of about 500 square miles.

Petersburg argued against consolidating or delaying its proposal. Mayor Al Dwyer says he isn’t surprised by Juneau’s appeal for the contested lands.

“The main issue I think that was on our side was we had our request in first,” Dwyer says. “Juneau had a chance for years and just neglected it until we put ours in and all of a sudden they want it.”

Likewise, Petersburg Attorney Jim Brennan says he’s confident Petersburg will prevail in the appeal, because Juneau was able to make it’s case before the boundary commission.

“All their filings in support of their own annexation petition and of course their written filings in opposition to the Petersburg borough petition were taken into account by the Local Boundary Commission,” says Brennan. “And Juneau sent down a sizable contingent to testify at the Local Boundary Commission hearing in Petersburg in opposition to the Petersburg petition.”

Brennan says under the normal timelines of an administrative appeal, a decision isn’t expected until well after Petersburg area voters decide on formation of the new borough this December.

State Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai says the Petersburg borough vote will proceed as scheduled unless directed otherwise by the court.

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