POW fears of borough annexation rekindle

Rumors are once again rolling that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough might annex some or all of Prince of Wales Island.

At the Borough Assembly’s Monday meeting, Assembly Member John Harrington said the annexation question was once again surfacing on Prince of Wales, prompting him to write a draft resolution for a future vote.

The Assembly approved a resolution in early 2013 disavowing any interest in extending its western borders, which end in the middle of Clarence Strait.

That resolution noted the Assembly couldn’t bind future Assemblies and couldn’t stop a citizen-led initiative.

On Tuesday, one Prince of Wales leader said the borough hasn’t done enough to convince residents of the island.

Harrington said he became aware of it through his role as a member of the state’s Local Boundary Commission.

“Several years back, we had put forth, I thought, a reasonable resolution saying we weren’t interested,” Harrington said. “But apparently that wasn’t quite enough.”

Leslie Isaacs, current chair of the Prince of Wales Community Advisory Council, said on Tuesday that while he’s hearing “the normal chatter” about annexation, Ketchikan’s borough hasn’t done enough to calm fears on Prince of Wales.

Referencing the 2013 resolution, he said that a “resolution is exactly that — just an opinion of the council at that time.”

Isaacs also works as the administrator of the City of Klawock.

He also noted a radio interview during Ketchikan’s October election season, when one candidate talked about the two potential mines on southern Prince of Wales as “potential revenue sources.”

While that might be innocuous in Ketchikan, Prince of Wales residents worry the mines on their island could be used to fill budget gaps across the strait.

Isaacs noted the state’s continuing budget crisis and fewer federal funds coming to rural Alaska.

“With those cutbacks, what does the future look like?” he said. “That’s what scares us, honestly. In that declining revenue, what would stop them from annexing the bottom half of the island, where they might be able to pick up some revenue?”

Harrington’s draft resolution, which hasn’t been considered by the Assembly, would establish as a “policy” of the borough that it “will seek no additional annexation without specifically being asked to annex an area by residents or property owners in that area.”

The draft resolution states that the resolution is “made in good faith,” and the policy is expressed with “strong conviction based on current borough plans and intentions.”

The resolution, like its 2013 precursor, states that it can’t bind future Assemblies or others who file petitions with the state’s Local Boundary Commission.

The last large annexation of the borough took place in 2008, when it expanded its eastern borders to include more than 4,000 square miles of the Tongass National Forest in southern Southeast.

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