The City of Hoonah recently submitted a petition to the state to form a borough, laying claim to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and most of Chichagof Island.
But some of the land also overlaps with a separate petition submitted by the City and Borough of Juneau.
Hoonah has been talking about forming a borough for 30 years.
City Administrator Dennis Gray said this is the community’s third attempt, but the first time they’ve filed a petition with the Local Boundary Commission. That’s the state body that reviews proposed changes to municipal borders.
“I’ve been involved in all three efforts personally, so this is pretty exciting for us to get this far,” Gray said.
The Xunaa Borough petition — pronounced like Hoonah, but with a slightly guttural “h” — incorporates traditional lands used by the Huna Tlingit clans that once occupied Glacier Bay before moving across Icy Strait to Hoonah, now the largest Tlingit community in Southeast.
Gray said the primary goal is to broaden the tax base and provide more educational funding for the more than 100 students in the Hoonah City School District.
“We don’t have a lot of electives for students and so we’re trying to offer more width and breadth of education for our students that are offered to students in Juneau or anywhere else in Southeast that are larger,” he said.
The new borough will be obligated to provide K-12 education for anyone within the approved borough boundaries. But Gray said Hoonah has no interest in collecting taxes or enforcing residential building codes on anyone outside of the city limits.
That should come as a relief to property owners in Funter Bay on Admiralty Island.
Juneau resident Gordon Harrison has owned a cabin on the island’s west side for more than 25 years. He and other cabin owners vigorously opposed being annexed by Juneau in 2017.
“We were very skeptical that they would provide us with any kind of meaningful service,” Harrison said. “I guess the one service that nobody really is crazy about over there is, you know, building codes and that sort of thing.”
Ultimately, Juneau left Funter Bay out of its petition to annex land on Admiralty Island. But Hoonah’s petition includes Funter Bay and land to the north, called the Mansfield Peninsula.
Harrison said he and his neighbors will wait to see what happens with that petition before they speak up. Local Boundary Commission staff will perform an informal review of Hoonah’s petition and provide initial feedback before the city submits the petition for formal review.
“It may come down to the lesser of two evils,” Harrison said. “We’re just sort of watching and seeing what’s going to happen.”
The Mansfield Peninsula, which both Juneau and Hoonah have laid claim to in their petitions, remains in question. Which community will gain control of it? Dennis Gray and Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt both said they hope to negotiate a compromise. Otherwise, the commission will make the final decision.
Juneau’s annexation petition was submitted earlier this year, so it’s farther along in the review process than Hoonah’s. After receiving initial feedback, Juneau submitted its petition for technical review in August. Both petitions will also undergo public comment periods.
Watt said he’s excited for Hoonah to form a borough and wishes them the best.
“Certainly having a Juneau Borough has given our citizens great opportunity to work on and control our destiny and have local control over our issues,” Watt said.
Meanwhile, Juneau’s annexation petition continues to draw controversy. Residents of Angoon have protested the inclusion of land on Admiralty Island that includes the Kootznoowoo Wilderness.
Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen said Tuesday he planned to bring up Hoonah’s petition at a city council meeting that night, but he personally sees no issue with that proposal.