City and Borough of Juneau will move forward with annexation plans, but some members of the Assembly aren’t happy about it.
Assembly member Rob Edwardson made an ultimately unsuccessful motion Monday for the Assembly to later consider repealing a 2018 resolution that OK’d pursuing annexation of four tracts of land that include a portion of Admiralty Island.
“My motion is on whether or not to address this again, not the merits of the arguments,” Edwardson said.
The motion and a subsequent discussion came after City Attorney Robert Palmer and City Manager Rorie Watt told the Assembly the city was close to submitting a formal petition with the Local Boundary Commission to continue pursuing annexing land into the borough’s boundaries.
Annexation has been a controversial idea and previously drawn protesters to City Hall and the Capitol.
In January 2018, a 5-4 Assembly vote authorized pursuit of annexation, and 16 months later the CBJ is close to formally filing paperwork to further the process.
Palmer and Watt said that delay was caused by data collection and preparing the petition.
“It was quiet from public view, but staff was diligently working,” Palmer said.
The case for annexation is that it could potentially bring more revenue to CBJ thanks to a broader tax base and possible mining expansion within borough boundaries. It would also bring the borough closer to the boundaries included in the State of Alaska Local Boundary Commission’s 1997 Model Borough Boundary Study.
“The reason we should annex is why our boundaries were drawn in the first place — protecting our ore bodies,” said Mayor Beth Weldon during the meeting.
As an Assembly member in 2018, Weldon voted for annexation.
Weldon said annexing the land could allow for Greens Creek Mine, which is already within borough boundaries, to expand and potentially for new mining to take place within borough borders.
In 2016, Greens Creek Mine made $2.4 million in tax payments to Juneau, according to a McDowell Group study on the mine’s economic impacts.
Additionally, Weldon said by acting now CBJ could avoid having the land annexed by a different borough. Previously, CBJ unsuccessfully protested the Petersburg Borough’s annexation of land.
But annexation is contentious, particularly since a portion of Admiralty National Monument on Admiralty Island is included in the proposed annexation boundaries.
Admiralty Island is known in Tlingit as Kootznoowoo — fortress of the bears — and it has the highest density of brown bears in North America.
The City of Angoon, whose residents have strong cultural and historical ties to Admiralty National Monument, has voiced its displeasure with the annexation process via social media and official resolutions.
Weldon said she was sympathetic to the situation of the city of about 459. Typically, a population of 1,000 is needed for boroughization.
“Unfortunately, Angoon is not in a position right now to become a borough, we have waited to see if that would happen,” Weldon said.
When reached by phone Tuesday morning, Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen said he found the Assembly’s discussion somewhat encouraging. Bowen reiterated opposition to annexation and said the city of Angoon plans to legally challenge the annexation.
Edwardson said annexation should only occur when population or business growth demands it, and that has not happened in this case. He also said he is not aware of much local public support for annexation.
“I have yet to find a single person in Juneau that supports this that isn’t sitting behind this desk or wasn’t sitting behind this desk,” Edwardson said.
He said in light of the governor’s budget vetoes, now is a time when Southeast Alaska needs to band together, and in his opinion what Juneau is pursuing runs counter to that.
Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, who voted in favor of Edwardson’s resolution to consider stopping annexation efforts at a future meeting, agreed that she would like to revisit the topic and CBJ could be a better Southeast neighbor.
Edwardson’s motion ultimately failed 5-3. Assembly member Wade Bryson also voted for the motion after saying he wants to have a better understanding of the topic.
Weldon and Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski, Carole Triem, Mary Becker and Michelle Bonnet Hale voted against the motion.
Hale said in light of there not being counties or parishes in Alaska, she tends to favor boroughization when possible since it better organizes the state.
Gladziszewski, who voted for annexation in 2018, said she was opposed to considering repealing the past Assembly’s resolution. She said it would be undoing a complicated decision made by the previous Assembly, and she pointed out annexation is still at least months away from being a certainty.
“We would just be taking back what prior Assemblies did,” Gladziszewski said.
Triem asked exactly what the annexation process is like moving forward.
Palmer said it’s a long process, and if the current resolution stands, there will be an additional public meeting that outlines what annexation means.
Then, there would be a public hearing in front of the Local Boundary Commission, which would then make a recommendation.
Annexation would then need to be in front of the Legislature in either January of 2020 or 2021, Palmer said, the Legislature could then either take action to stop the annexation or let it go through.
“This is the beginning of a longer process and certainly not the end,” Gladziszewski said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.