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Alaska Supreme Court hears Petersburg vs. Juneau boundary dispute


Justices with the Alaska Supreme Court are now mulling over the boundary dispute case between Petersburg and Juneau. If Juneau prevails, Petersburg could be forced to revert back to city status.

The City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) filed an appeal with the Supreme Court over a Superior Court Judge’s ruling in favor of the newly formed Petersburg Borough’s northern boundary line, which Juneau had earlier sought to annex, in March 2014.

The Alaska Supreme Court heard both sides’ arguments on June 17 in Anchorage.

Juneau attorney Amy Mead said the Local Boundary Commission (LBC) is charged with establishing borough boundaries.

“The question in this case is whether the LBC’s decision to set a boundary encompassing an area that was claimed by both Petersburg and the CBJ based only on the sufficiency of the Petersburg petition standing alone was a violation of its obligations under the constitution,” she said.

Facing further prodding from justices, Mead said the case really boils down to this: Petersburg doesn’t satisfy the constitutional requirement under Article X, Section 3, that boroughs “embrace an area and population with common interests to the maximum degree possible.”

She said the narrowing of LBC’s questioning is what was unconstitutional; that questions about travel and media didn’t necessarily prove who had more use for the 1,500 square miles in question.

She argued that the CBJ does historically and currently, and that the LBC’s analysis was not properly done.

Mead said the commission itself supported Juneau in the contested area in the model borough boundary study, and did not consider all of CBJ’s evidence or arguments during hearings.

James Brennan, Petersburg’s attorney, argued that that wasn’t true.

He added that the borough rebutted a 58-page report by the Juneau Economic Development Council bolstering greater tourism connections and proved that Petersburg’s “commercial fishing connections to the area were substantially greater.”

Jill Hafner, representing LBC, said that in some respects, “this is very much an argument about form over substance.”

She said where LBC and CBJ differ is whether Section 3 has a definitive endpoint, “that there’s always one best fixed boundary line at any given time and only one boundary can ever, ever meet the standards for incorporation.”

She added that it’s based on broad enough language to give the commission flexibility.

The dispute has been ongoing ever since the LBC approved the Petersburg Borough’s northern boundary request, extending to Juneau’s southern boundary minus Tracy Arm and Whiting River watersheds, in 2012.

Juneau appealed that decision, arguing it had greater claim to territory running south from its current border to just past Holkham Bay, but a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the LBC.

On March 28, 2014, Juneau appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

The Alaska Supreme Court typically publishes decisions within nine months of a hearing.


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