Web posted Thursday, September 1, 2011

Assembly moves to investigate options on Petersburg borough formation

By Sarah Day
Juneau Empire/Morris News Service-Alaska

The city and borough of Juneau made a move to start researching a legal response to Petersburg's filing to become a borough and it will likely counter Petersburg's proposal to incorporate areas like Hobart Bay.

Petersburg filed a proposal with the Local Boundary Commission to dissolve the city and instead create a new borough.

The city intends to dispute the areas Petersburg wants from "east of Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage ... all territory from the southern boundary of the existing City and Borough of Juneau, to the Canadian border on the East, to include Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness Area; Chuck River Wilderness Area; Endicott Arm, Holkham Bay, Windham Bay, and Hobart Bay."

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Mayor Bruce Botelho presented the Assembly with a four options:

• Do nothing, in which case the Boundaries Commission would likely approve Petersburg's request in relation to Juneau.

• File a simple opposition brief, but there the commission likely would not side with Juneau because the commission no longer has a presumption of favoring model boundaries — where the disputed lands lie.

• File a competing petition to incorporate most of the lands in dispute based upon the model boundaries the commission drew in 1997. Botelho states the commission would likely approve the annexation of the lands because there is "sufficient nexus to Juneau and these lands are within model boundaries." He said that with Goldbelt's historic opposition to dividing its lands between two boroughs, it is unlikely that only all lands north of Hobart bay would be excepted. The proposal would have to include all lands north of Hobart Bay and the portion of the Bay in the model boundaries design.

• File a competing petition to annex all lands on the mainland south of borough boundaries including the entire Hobart Bay watershed. Botelho believes how the commission would favor this would depend upon which borough could demonstrate the best geographic, social, economic, transportation, communication and other integration ties. Goldbelt's desire also would be a significant tide-turner.

Goldbelt Corp. Vice President of Operations Derek Duncan wrote a letter to Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer and Botelho, stating the corporation is remaining neutral, for now.

The Petersburg proposal includes 30,000 acres of Goldbelt Incorporated's lands.

"Although there was written documentation and oral statements in the past regarding Goldbelt's position, the corporation is neutral at this point in time with regards to which borough, if any, should encompass Hobart Bay," he wrote. "The Goldbelt Board of Directors will decide on its borough preference over the next couple of months and written comments will be submitted to the Local Boundary Commission by the October 26th deadline."

Botelho said the city withheld incorporating Hobart Bay as per the commission's model boundaries because Goldbelt had preferred to remain outside a borough.

"One scenario (of moving to add the area) contemplated that another community would start the process of annexation or incorporation of those lands," Botelho said. "To me this is a long-term question for the community. Once the boundaries are set we will be with them for generations. ... Having said all this, I'm not sure we're in a position tonight to say definitively which position we should take."

City Attorney John Hartle recommended hiring an expert consulting firm to help draft the counterarguments. He said Petersburg has hired Scheinburg and Associates to help them through the process.

"We would need some capable researcher and writer to determine the facts and file them with the commission," Hartle said.

Botelho's recommendation for consideration of the four options was to authorize staff to begin preparing a responsive plea for the commission, prepare a resolution supporting filing of the plea at the next Assembly meeting for public hearing, and authorize staff to spend up to $10,000 to collect data for the plea.

The Assembly agreed more information needs to be gathered before they can make a decision and approved the measure.

Assemblyman Johan Dybdahl said one strong point to consider is what can the City and Borough of Juneau offer Goldbelt? What's the incentive for the corporation to choose Juneau over Petersburg? What services can this borough provide?

He said sometimes during annexations those considerations are left in the reverse — what the incorporation of those lands would do for the city and borough.

Botelho said those questions should be reflected in the research and outcomes of the staff report.

"That's going to be a great question that needs to be reflected on in great detail," Botelho said. "There is relatively little either local government will be delivering in terms of services. This decision will affect generations. This is something I think is significant, Goldbelt shareholders by and large live in the city and borough of Juneau will have the ability to affect their own development."

Assemblywoman Ruth Danner also wanted to see a cost-to-benefit analysis of the options as they consider the next step for both the borough and landowners.

Assemblyman Peter Freer supports an annexation petition move. He said annexation issues have been fairly common throughout Southeast lately and it's time for Juneau to act and be a part in defining the area.

Assemblyman Malcolm Menzies supported looking into a Juneau annexation of Hobart Bay, saying he has worked down there for years and believes it has stronger ties to Juneau. He also agreed the watershed should not be split.