The City of Angoon formally rebuked the City and Borough of Juneau’s progress toward annexing tracts of land that include parts of Admiralty Island.
Angoon passed a resolution Monday that certifies the city “fully opposes any attempt to annex any portion of Admiralty National Monument, a land that has been under local stewardship since time immemorial.”
Angoon is not part of the land included in annexation plans, but it is the nearest city to the federal monument and has strong historical and Alaska Native cultural ties to the land. The area is known in Tlingit as Kootznoowoo — fortress of the bears. It has the highest density of brown bears in North America.
“There’s a deep sense of responsibility by the citizens here in Angoon,” Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen told the Empire in an interview. “Some of the elders, like in the resolution here, in 1978 went over to Washington to lobby for protection for Admiralty. Because of that, everyone here feels that it’s our duty to continue the efforts of our elders that fought to protect this land that’s federally protected land.”
A protest of the possible annexation is also planned for noon Friday at the Alaska State Capitol, Bowen said.
He said the reason for both the protest and resolution is because the City and Borough of Juneau notified him recently that the city would soon be filing an annexation petition with the Local Boundary Commission.
Juneau’s Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove told the Empire it’s hoped an informal petition will be “sent out the door” Friday to the commission , and CBJ is aware of Angoon’s concerns.
“We certainly understand, and I think this process itself of petitioning the local boundary commission and going through a public process is exactly on point. They have some concerns, which they’ve expressed, and CBJ has a slightly different view, which is also legitimate,” Cosgrove said. “At the end of the day, it’s the Local Boundary Commission that will sort through those things and make a final deterimination. It’s public process at work.”
In January 2018 CBJ Assembly voted to pursue annexing four tracts of land, including Funter Bay and parts of Admiralty Island. While Funter Bay was later dropped from the annexation area, the Glass Peninsula, Pack Creek and Horse and Colt Islands — as well as a triangle-shaped portion on the mainland including Tracy Arm — are still part of annexation plans.
During a June 3 Assembly meeting, City Attorney Robert Palmer said if the land is annexed, CBJ plans to offer the same services — mainly emergency medical services and education support — to residents of the annexed land as it does to rural areas already within the borough.
The annexation process is not going to happen overnight, he said.
“The next steps are going to depend on what the local boundary commission says,” Palmer said in the previous Assembly meeting. “At some point, there will likely need to be another public hearing on it prior to it going up for legislative review.”
That review would happen next year at the earliest, Cosgrove said.
During that same June 3 meeting, city officials made the case for why CBJ wants to annex the land. Palmer said it would be near Model Borough Boundaries shown in a 1997 state study that outline how boroughs may expand in the future.
Also, by annexing the land now, CBJ would be proactively attempting to acquire land rather than acting defensively as it did in boundary disputes after Petersburg formed its borough, said City Manager Rorie Watt.
There’s also the possibility for economic development.
“There are two large mineral resource operations within our borough that we provide a lot of home-based support to, and we also receive significant property tax from them,” Watt said in the June 3 meeting.
Angoon wants to annex Admiralty Island, too
In Angoon, Bowen said Admiralty National Monument is protected by the National Parks Service, but the council and residents are worried about what could happen if its monument status were someday changed.
Monuments are proclaimed by the president, while national parks are established by an act of Congress. That difference means there have been plans in the past to remove tracts of land from monuments in order to allow development.
Bowen said worry about the land’s future wasn’t limited to just concerns about CBJ control, it applies to any other municipality or borough that may try to annex the land.
“We think that there should be some way for the residents of Angoon to continue to be the protectors of this land,” Bowen said.
The city is actively looking for a way to ensure that.
At the same meeting at which the resolution in opposition to annexation was approved, Bowen said the council also decided to pursue hiring legal representation in an attempt to annex Admiralty National Monument and expand municipal boundaries.
Bowen said Angoon may also pursue becoming a borough rather than expand its borders as a municipality because while there is typically a requirement that a prospective borough must have a population of 1,000 — the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Angoon has a population of 459 — he’s hopeful that the connection to the monument would be enough to get that waived.
“To me that’s a compelling reason,” Bowen said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.