For years, the City and Borough of Juneau has looked at expanding its borders. At a Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, city officials took a small step forward in that pursuit.
Committee members identified four areas of land to include in an application to the Local Boundary Commission (LBC) to request an expansion of Juneau’s borough boundaries. The four areas of land include three sections on Admiralty Island (including Funter Bay, Pack Creek and Glass Peninsula) as well as a triangle-shaped portion of land between the Juneau and Petersburg boroughs.
This application will go in front of the CBJ Assembly at its Jan. 22 meeting, where it will also be open for public comment.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Ken Koelsch lamented at how slowly this process has moved.
“This has been, at least since I’ve been mayor, something that we just haven’t moved forward with,” Koelsch, who has been mayor since March 2016, said, “and I just think that we need to move forward with.”
In the 1990s, the LBC defined so-called “model borough boundaries,” identifying where borough boundaries would ideally be. Juneau’s model boundaries extend beyond its actual borough boundaries are.
Of the land that the CBJ would include in its application, almost all of it is currently not in a borough. This proposed expansion, City Manager Rorie Watt said, is in large part for the city to meet its model borough boundaries and to ensure that all possible land is included in a borough.
“Under the state’s theory that everything goes into a borough, our goal is to include the land in our borough that makes the most sense,” Watt said. “That’s the argument for this.”
In April 2016, CBJ officials including Watt attempted to set up a meeting with Angoon — located on Admiralty Island — city officials to discuss the possibility of the CBJ expanding its land on Admiralty Island. The CBJ’s borders already go on to Admiralty, covering a section that includes Hawk Inlet.
They were unable to set up a meeting, and in September, Angoon Mayor Harriet Silva wrote to the CBJ expressing that she and her staff are not in favor of any expansion of the CBJ’s borders on Admiralty Island.
“The City of Angoon strongly opposes any further annexation by the City and Borough of Juneau,” Silva wrote, “and feels that since Admiralty Island is the home of the Angoon Tlingit people since time immemorial that any further annexation of any part of Admiralty Island is a front to our rich culture and history.”
One of the main attractions on Admiralty is the Pack Creek area, which is a tourist location during the summer. Since the 1930s, Pack Creek has been a destination for those who are looking to safely view bears. Admiralty Island, or “Kootznoowoo” in Tlingit which means “Fortress of the Bears,” is famous for being home to the highest density of brown bears in North America.
One of the main questions on the table Wednesday was whether to apply for these areas of land all together or separately. The committee members ended up deciding to apply for all of them together.
In an April 2016 memo, CBJ Lands and Resources Manager Greg Chaney wrote that it’s important for the city to apply for all of the areas at once (though he suggested only applying for three of the four areas). It’s more efficient to package the applications together, and more importantly, priority in land annexation usually goes to the first applicant, Chaney wrote.
City officials learned this firsthand in 2015, when the Petersburg Borough applied for land within Juneau’s model boundary, including the Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area. CBJ filed an appeal, but the Alaska Supreme Court ended up siding with Petersburg.
Chaney also wrote that annexing the triangle-shaped patch of land between the Juneau and Petersburg boroughs is “mostly symbolic,” as there are no local residences. He wrote that down the line, mineral development or tourism could provide some economic value.