Borough petition approved four to one
Over three days of public hearings, the Local Boundary Commission heard testimony regarding the Petersburg Borough Petition.
Wednesday the commission heard the petitioner’s opening statement from Jim Brennan of Hedland, Brennan & Heideman, as well as the respondents’ opening statements from Amy Meade, assistant city attorney for the City & Borough of Juneau; Bob Lynn and Tom Cole with George Cole waiving his opening statement.
“The proposed boundaries conform to the natural geography of the area,” Brennan said. “We also have no conflict between the City of Petersburg and the City and Borough of Wrangell.”
The boundary along the eastern side of the proposed area was drawn specifically to avoid Kake tribal lands.
“We held a pre-petition conference with Kake representatives to establish this boundary,” Brennan explained.
The problem with this proposed area is the contestation of the City and Borough of Juneau and the area regarding its southern border south all the way to Cape Fanshaw.
“This area is an economic bread basket for the Petersburg area,” Brennan said. “The use of the area by Petersburg fishermen south of Tracy Arm and including Endicott Arm far outweighs that of Juneau.”
Meade explained that Juneau has no objections to the City of Petersburg’s formation of a borough, they do, however have an objection to the proposed boundary.
“The area from the southern border to Cape Fanshaw should be annexed into the CBJ,” Meade said. “Boroughs must be created to embrace common areas of interest among the residents and this proposed boundary does not do that.”
Lynn took the time to explain that he was an instrumental part of the original development of the charter and petition for a borough in Petersburg. “My statements here reflect 40 years of experience working with and for the government,” he said. “At the time of the petition’s development in 2005 I was in favor of the borough, but I am now a no borough advocate.”
Lynn swore that the City of Petersburg changed the original charter and those changes will adversely affect those residents living outside of the city limits, and they formed a committee void of any outlying residents.
With a little over 2600 registered voters living in the city and 263 living outside, the outlying residents are a minority in the decision processes.
“No harmony can exist if this charter and petition is approved as is,” Lynn said. “This petition does not represent the best interest of the residents of Petersburg and especially not of those outside the city.”
The state constitution was discussed by Cole. “Our constitution does not create our rights, it protects our rights,” he stated. “Our rights and life choices are being taken from us.”
Petitioner’s sworn testimony brought fourth emotions and history of the area and the different lifestyle choices of those living outside the city limits, as well as statements regarding the contested area of the borough formation map.
Commercial fishermen and local residents made note of the need for the Endicott and Tracy Arm areas of the borough formation map.
Don Nelson, author of “The Story of Petersburg” testified that the Frederick Sound and Stephens Pass area are the backyard for Petersburg.
“Petersburg fishermen have dominated this area for decades,” Nelson said. “Petersburg was considered one of the six most important economic centers in Alaska.”
Longtime fisherman, Bill Love, spoke of years he fished in the contested area.
“I have fished halibut in Stephens Pass since 1946,” Love said. “Stephens Pass is one of the largest contributors of Petersburg’s economy.”
Karl Hagerman of the City of Petersburg Public Works Department and Sandy Dixson, Petersburg Fire Department EMS Director, testified to the areas each department services outside of the city limits to date.
Glorianne Wollen, Petersburg Harbor Master, testified to the connection between Petersburg and the outlying area with the Harbor Department. Having been born and raised in Petersburg, for Wollen there is no separation in her life and her life at the Harbor. “We provide 24 hour service and are here to accommodate the needs of our communities,” Wollen stated. “It’s strange that it has become an us versus them argument. The people of Kupreanof are not alone, they are our neighbors and live among our community, and these relationships should be long-lasting.”
The harbor hosts a myriad of visitors daily. “The City of Petersburg has served as a hub for over a century,” Wollen said. “And the harbor is at its center.”
The first day of hearings ended with testimony by the City of Kupreanof Mayor Dana Thynes. Thynes entitled her testimonial statement, “Walking on the Sidewalks.” The City of Kupreanof is a place of no roads, only trails and boardwalks.
“The differences between the cities of Kupreanof and Petersburg are obvious and plain for all to see,” Thynes said. “But they go far beyond what is seen on the surface.”
The lifestyles of the people of Kupreanof are dependent on the seasons and the tides. “We who choose to live off the grid are independent,” Thynes stated. “And we like it that way. We don’t want to be organized by anyone, no matter how well-meaning.”
Thynes explains that she and the residents of Kupreanof take the attitude that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
“Petersburg, or Petersburg Central Planners have strayed from the self-reliant early beginnings and have become dependent on state funds,” Thynes said. “Petersburg Central Planners are willing to flush down the toilet the Alaskan Dream.”
Thynes ended her statement with, “A vote for the borough is a vote to kill the Alaskan Dream.”
Thursday brought more testimony and representatives of the Goldbelt Corporation. Katherine Eldemar, Vice-Chairman of the Board, states that Goldbelt prefers that Hobart Bay remain in the unorganized borough or have the opportunity to form a Chatham-Icy Strait Borough. “With a predominately Alaska Native population from the communities of Kake, Angoon and Hoonah, this borough would share common bonds of culture, background and family.”
Ben Coronell made his statement wearing a 200 year-old blanket that was worn by his ancestors. “Each time there was an important decision to be made,” Coronell states. “This blanket was worn.”
Coronell talks of the testimony heard the day before in which fishermen were here for over three generations.
“My ancestors have been here for 10,000 years,” Coronell said. “When my people came here all those years ago, there wasn’t one fishing boat to be seen. We want to be good neighbors, but would prefer to remain unorganized.”
The residents of Kake are also opposed to the possible addition of Kake lands in this proposed borough. Kake Tribal leader, Lincoln Bean, Bob Mills, Vice-Chair of Kake Tribal Corporation and Vicki Wolf, Kake Tribal Corporation CEO all testified to the fact they were not spoken to on this matter. “As a tribal leader, someone should have come to me with a proposition and discussed the boundaries in question,” Bean said.
“We are a small village,” Mills stated. “We would like to be self-sustainable.”
The public comment portion of the hearing was heartfelt and fast.
Petersburg Pilot Publisher, Ron Loesch, stated, “The City of Wrangell transitioned from a city government to a borough government with little problems, I believe we can do the same.”
Joseph Sebastian said, “This is an emotional issue and I don’t want to stop the borough, I just don’t want to be a part of it.”
In the end, with all testimony being heard it comes down to the Land Boundary Council to decide if the petition is to be approved.
The motion was made by Larry Semmens of Soldotna to approve the petition as proposed and discussion ensued at that point.
When all discussion ended the motion was amended to approve the petition with the staff to make changes which will exclude Tracy Arm from the Petersburg proposed borough and a vote of four to one finished the proceedings.
“The possibility of an appeal is possible,” Juneau Assistant City Attorney, Amy Meade said. “This contested area should still be a part of the City and Borough of Juneau.”