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Petersburg Borough boundaries remain intact after court decision


Submitted Illustration

This map shows the northern boundary of the Petersburg Borough. The boundary was set by the Local Boundary Commission in 2012 and Juneau appealed the decision, but the boundary was upheld last week by the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Alaska Supreme Court, Alaska's highest court, ruled in favor of keeping the Petersburg Borough's northern boundary the same on Friday. The ruling upheld the Local Boundary Commission of Alaska's 2012 decision to approve the northern boundary expansion request of the Petersburg Borough. The decision also means no further appeals can be heard on the matter.

In June, Juneau filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court after a Superior Court Judge previously ruled in favor of the Local Boundary Commission decision. The area in question spans over 1,500 square miles at the southern boundary of the City and Borough of Juneau. The boundary commission had set the Petersburg Borough northern boundary within a set of peaks south of Tracy Arm. However, the newly established boundary was farther north than the City and Borough of Juneau had wanted.

The Petersburg Borough is getting around $600,000 to $700,000 in extra revenue that it did not get before it was formed into a borough, according to Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht. Those numbers would have been less if the northern boundary was shortened to the south, but there is no way of telling how much, he said.

When asked why the Petersburg boundary was set so far north, Giesbrecht said in many cases it was about money. Secondary factors included protecting commercial fishing rights, and having control of the land gives control of the water in some sense.

"You have communities in Alaska that levy an additional raw fish tax on the catch, and Petersburg does not," Giesbrecht said. "I think a lot of the commercial fisherman felt they would prefer that decision be made by them out of their community rather than maybe being made out of Juneau, if that land had been annexed into the Juneau Borough."

Giesbrecht said he believes the decision to create a boundary line up against the preexisting southern boundary of the Juneau Borough was ultimately more about taking what amounted to empty real estate. Although the reasons of setting the boundary can get into deep and elaborate issues, Petersburg simply modeled the borough line against Wrangell in the south and Juneau in the north, he said.

The appeal side of the fight to Juneau and maintain the Petersburg Borough northern line cost about $62,000, according to Giesbrecht. Of that amount, $5,000 to $6,000 will be returned from the court costs, he said.

"It's not something you go into without really knowing this is right thing you want to do," Giesbrecht said. "Obviously we're happy with the decision and I think we're also very happy this appears to be over. We have assumed we were going to win all along, and taken a lot of steps to move forward."


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