Split Juneau Assembly advances annexation petition — with no one arguing for it

A group of residents who grew up in Angoon protest the Juneau Assembly's plans to annex parts of Admiralty Island on Jan. 22, 2018, at an intersection on Egan Drive.
A group of residents who grew up in Angoon protest the Juneau Assembly’s plans to annex parts of Admiralty Island at an intersection on Egan Drive on Monday. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

A petition to annex four tracts into the City and Borough of Juneau is heading to the state’s Local Boundary Commission. Three of the four tracts are on Admiralty Island which drew fire from Angoon and seasonal property owners.

Opposition came from different places but with a unified purpose: no to Juneau annexing more of Admiralty Island.

“Alaska’s a great place to be because we have lots of remote places where government presence is really minimal,” Wheeler Creek cabin owner Steve Gilbertson told the Assembly. He was also Juneau’s municipal lands manager in the 1990s. “I don’t believe every square inch of Alaska has to be part of a borough and the benefits and services would be minimal or non-existent.”

In Alaska, a borough only guarantees zoning, taxation and a school if there are at least 10 school-aged children. There aren’t enough kids in the seasonal areas, and Juneau doesn’t apply zoning off the road system.

No one at the public hearing or on the Assembly made a case for annexation.

“What is the public interest in annexing these areas?” asked Assemblyman Rob Edwardson. “What’s the public interest for me as a citizen of Juneau? Or for people who have property that could be annexed soon?”

It was left to City Manager Rorie Watt to take a stab at answering. He said the benefits of Juneau’s services extend far and wide.

“Juneau maintains a hospital,” Watt said, “and it maintains an airport and we maintain a harbor system and road system and all the things that make the city work.”

Watt added that most of the seasonal cabin owners on Admiralty Island live in Juneau, so it’s not unreasonable to ask them to pay taxes on their seasonal property.

But the city staff’s argument doesn’t apply to Angoon. Its city council passed a resolution last Friday noting that Admiralty Island is a national monument and is “essential for the health and culture of the Angoon People.”

Former Angoon Mayor Maxine Fred Thompson told the Juneau Assembly that Tlingit are traditionally territorial and tied to their ancestral lands.

“So when we’re told that somebody else wants to lay claim to a property it’s very insulting,” she said. “It goes to the very core.”

It came down to a single vote. The annexation petition passed 5-4.

The four tracts in red are areas the City and Borough of Juneau will petition to add to its boundaries. That will require approval by the Alaska Local Boundary Commission and the state Legislature. (Graphic courtesy of City and Borough of Juneau)

Supporting the petition was Mayor Ken Koelsch, and Assembly members Jerry Nankervis, Mary Becker, Beth Weldon and Maria Gladziszewski.

Funter Bay property owner Joel Bennett said the result was a shock considering none of these elected officials had made their case.

“It’s a little bit disturbing because the weight of the testimony of course was 100 percent one way and there were no real clear details in my mind on why this had to be done,” he said after the vote.

Angoon Mayor Pauline Jim didn’t conceal her anger at the result.

“We don’t need people who are coming into our land to try and take over,” she said. “We cannot live with them and they’ve done nothing to help us.”

It’s far from a done deal. Monday’s vote sends the city’s petition to the Local Boundary Commission, which will hold its own hearings. Angoon’s mayor said her community isn’t done fighting.

“We will do what has to be done and I’m sure we’re going to come back to them and take whatever steps that need to be taken,” she added.

If the Local Boundary Commission approves Juneau’s petition, it will still need to be approved by the Alaska Legislature.

Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director based in Juneau. CoastAlaska is our partner in Southeast Alaska. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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