Hoonah, seen in this 2010 photo, is a village of about 800 people west of Juneau on Chichagof Island. The City of Hoonah recently filed a petition that showed plans for making a borough that would be among the largest in the state. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Hoonah, seen in this 2010 photo, is a village of about 800 people west of Juneau on Chichagof Island. The City of Hoonah recently filed a petition that showed plans for making a borough that would be among the largest in the state. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Small Southeast city tries for big borough

Hoonah’s proposal includes parts of Sitka and Haines boroughs

The City of Hoonah is attempting to form what would be the largest borough in Southeast Alaska.

A petition for a proposed Xunaa Borough was filed for technical review with the Local Boundary Commission on Oct. 4, said Hoonah City Administrator Dennis Gray Jr. in an interview. Hoonah is a community of about 800 residents 40 miles southwest of Juneau.

“We’re reasserting our territorial claim to the Icy Strait area,” Gray said. “It’s Huna territory, so we’re just trying to reassert that.”

A map of the proposed borough shows it contains over 35,000 square miles and includes Glacier Bay, Icy Strait, a portion of the Chatham Strait, parts of Chichagof Island and Excursion Inlet.

This map from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s meeting packet, shows the proposed Xunaa Borough in relation to other nearby boroughs and cities. (Courtesy Photo | City and Borough of Juneau)

This map from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s meeting packet, shows the proposed Xunaa Borough in relation to other nearby boroughs and cities. (Courtesy Photo | City and Borough of Juneau)

The proposed borough excludes the cities of Gustavus, Tenakee Springs and Pelican.

Gray said the reason for that is that unsuccessful boroughization attempts in ‘07 and ‘99, were ultimately derailed, in part, by including other municipalities.

“We just had too much drag, and they just weren’t ready,” Gray said. “We didn’t want to have our progress stopped. With our borough boundary drawn the way it is, they can join at a later date if they want to, or join someone else if they want to.”

The proposed boundaries also include portions of both the Haines and Sitka boroughs as well as lands, including an area near Funter Bay, that’s part of the City and Borough Juneau’s ongoing annexation effort.

[Angoon opposes Juneau’s planned annexation]

The CBJ filed a formal annexation petition with the Local Boundary Commission in June to annex lands that include Oliver Inlet, Glass Peninsula, Pack Creek and Horse and Colt Islands, a triangular portion on the mainland including Tracy Arm and an area on Admiralty Island south of Greens Creek Mine.

Gray said the proposed borough is not a reaction to Juneau’s efforts.

“No, not at all,” he said. “We didn’t realize we were doing the same work. It just kind of coincided at the same time.”

However, that overlap led to CBJ officials discussing the filing at Monday night’s Assembly meeting.

“We have a little bit of an overlap in our boundaries,” said City Manager Rorie Watt during the meeting that lasted past 10 p.m. “I would imagine there’s going to be a lot of questions from our Southeast neighbors over their boundaries.”

This map from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s meeting packet, shows the proposed Xunaa Borough in relation to other Southeast boroughs and a portion of Mansfield Peninsula that is part of Juneau’s annexation efforts. (Courtesy Photo | City and Borough of Juneau)

This map from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s meeting packet, shows the proposed Xunaa Borough in relation to other Southeast boroughs and a portion of Mansfield Peninsula that is part of Juneau’s annexation efforts. (Courtesy Photo | City and Borough of Juneau)

He said he would remain in communications with the City of Hoonah.

While Juneau and Hoonah are talking, Gray said Hoonah had not reached out to either the Haines or Sitka boroughs since it was anticipated the borough’s proposed boundaries would be contentious.

Amy Ainslie, Planner 1 with the City and Borough of Sitka planning department, said there is no comment on the proposed borough at this time because of lack of information.

Debra Schnabel, Haines Borough Manager, said in a phone interview Tuesday she was aware of Hoonah’s interest in boroughization but had not seen the documents filed for technical review.

Upon seeing the map included in CBJ’s Assembly meeting packet while talking to the Empire, Schnable said she was struck by the proposed borough’s size and surprised at its scope.

“There is no planned response,” Schnable said.

She said the Haines Assembly will meet Oct. 22, and the topic could come up.

Gray said the reason Hoonah is pursuing a borough is to capture more revenue, which he said would be put toward the Hoonah School District.

[Coast Guard experiences emergency radio outages in Alaska]

“We believe based on our forecast it would be about $900,000 extra for the school district,” he said.

The district’s budget is currently about $3.3 million, Gray said. A borough planner would be hired for the newly formed borough if it goes through, Gray said, but otherwise new hires aren’t anticipated.

The extra revenue could enable Hoonah to fund its school district at or near the state funding cap set by state law, Gray said.

“Right now, we’re at the local minimum effort for the school district, and this would get us to the cap, like Juneau’s able to do and like Sitka’s able to do,” Gray said. “All these non-Native communities are at the max, and our community’s always been the minimum effort. We want to go to the cap so our kids have the same chances as Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan kids.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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