Juneau-Petersburg boundary dispute argued in court

Final Petersburg Borough Map Illustration
Final Petersburg Borough Map Illustration (Click on image to enlarge)

The City and Borough of Juneau says the northern boundary for the recently-formed Petersburg Borough is wrong. It’s a jagged line that starts in northwestern Holkham Bay and runs from peak-to-peak north of Endicott Arm all the way east to the Canadian border.

The CBJ says the mistake was made by the Local Boundary Commission, the state panel charged with reviewing the creation or alteration of municipal governments. They want the LBC to go back and redraw that line, preferably much further south than it is now.

The CBJ, which had its own petition to annex the mainland down to Cape Fanshaw, is making its case with a judicial appeal of the LBC’s approval of the Petersburg Borough incorporation petition. Arguments were held Wednesday afternoon in Juneau Superior Court.



Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez
Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez listens to arguments in the appeal of the Petersburg Borough incorporation petition. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

For much of the nearly hour-and-fifteen minute hearing, attorneys provided their own interpretation of what was done with both petitions, and why.

City and Borough of Juneau attorney Amy Mead referred to a constitutional requirement for the LBC to fully and fairly consider both competing claims for the overlapping area between Holkham Bay and Cape Fanshaw before a boundary was set. But she says the LBC only considered whether the Petersburg petition met incorporation standards.

In a situation such as the LBC had before in this case, when there were competing claims for the same area and two pending petitions filed for the same area, the LBC was obligated to fully consider all of the competing claims. Nothing justifies the first-in-time approach that the LBC took in this matter.”

Juneau Annexation proposal map (Click to enlarge)

Mead said that both petitions could have been consolidated, or considered separately, but fully by the LBC.

Mead says there was no hearing physically in the CBJ on the Juneau annexation petition and the CBJ did not have opportunity to fully present their claims. They were only able to present their claims on the Petersburg petition, and CBJ’s own annexation petition was eventually set aside by the LBC pending outcome of the December borough vote by Petersburg citizens.

State attorney Erling Johanson, representing the LBC, says Juneau’s comments were not ignored. The CBJ annexation petition was accepted nearly two months before a multi-day public hearing in Petersburg that included witnesses from Juneau.

The commissioners had the entire volumes of Juneau’s petition. All the back up material and everything.”

Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen
Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen listens to arguments in Juneau Superior Court. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Jim Brennan, attorney for Petersburg, says there was substantial evidence that demonstrated Petersburg’s dominance in the disputed area with tourism and commercial fishing. But he also points to the Tracy Arm area that was carved out from the proposed Petersburg boundaries as the LBC recognizing Juneau’s stronger ties to that part of the mainland.

In this case, Petersburg’s efforts to form a borough had been pending for five years. Ms. Mead tried to equate the two. What Juneau did is sit on their hands all that time. And so, finally at the eleventh hour, when Petersburg’s petition was set to be heard, that’s when they filed their annexation petition.”


Petersburg Proposed Borough Map
Petersburg Proposed Borough Map (Click to enlarge)


Brennan also argued that requiring an amended boundary would invalidate the vote by Petersburg residents or force dissolution of the new Borough, creating chaos and a legal mess. But CBJ’s Amy Mead said during rebuttal that would not happen in this instance, and she said it was not their intent to invalidate the new borough anyway.

Mead was accompanied at the appellants table during arguments by Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford while Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen joined Johansen and Brennan at the appellees table.

Attorney Jim Brennan
Attorney Jim Brennan represented the Petersburg Borough during Wednesday’s hearing in Juneau Superior Court. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez asked only a few questions as he patiently listened to all the arguments.

I have the documents. We’re starting to review them to a greater extent. We’ll take it under advisement. Thank you for your time. It’s been very interesting.”

He’s expected to issue an opinion anytime within the next six months.

Jensen Sanford Mead
Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen (left) shakes hands with CBJ Attorney Amy Mead, accompanied by Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford (center), following arguments in Juneau Superior Court on the Petersburg Borough incorporation petition. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News





Related documentation:

Juneau’s Annexation Petition

Juneau’s Appellant Brief on boundary appeal

Petersburg Appellee Brief in response to Juneau appeal

State LBC Appellees Brief





Related stories:

Juneau boundary appeal could have serious Petersburg consequences

Petersburg becomes 19th borough in Alaska

Unofficial results show Petersburg borough passing

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