Haines assemblyman's question has Skagway considering borough status

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The mere mention that their town could be absorbed into the Haines Borough had Skagway officials talking about becoming the state's newest organized borough.

City leaders have been considering the change for years, but renewed their efforts this week after a Haines Borough official asked about possible annexation of Skagway, Gustavus and Glacier Bay.

''I was just requesting information, not pushing a measure,'' Haines assemblyman Terry Pardee said. ''I was really surprised by the explosive reaction.''

Skagway City Manager Bob Ward attended Tuesday's borough meeting in Haines after being tipped off that the issue would be raised.

''It has Skagway up in arms and a lot of people in Haines concerned about potentially souring our relationship,'' Ward said.

The two towns have cooperated in the past, particularly on tourism and transportation issues. Skagway Mayor John Mielke and Haines Borough Mayor Jerry Lapp stood together last year on the steps of the Capitol to support fast ferries and oppose a road from Juneau.

Lapp wasn't at Tuesday's meeting, but played down Pardee's request.

''There was nothing to it, just one assemblyman inquiring about the process for annexing,'' Lapp said. ''There was no action and I don't plan to pursue it further.''

Chip Lende, the acting mayor of the city of Haines, said he he's been on the telephone trying to mend fences with his colleagues across the bay.

''Haines is trying to work closely with Skagway on economic development and we don't want to jeopardize that relationship,'' Lende said.

Pardee said he was only looking into something -- the consolidation of communities in the upper Lynn Canal -- supported by Alaska constitutional mandate and legislative edict.

Dan Bockhorst, who works for the state Local Boundary Commission, said the law presumes boroughs will encompass multiple communities and a population of at least 1,000 people.

City governments are community-based, while borough governments are region-based, he said.

Skagway has a year-round population of 825 and filing a petition to form a borough could be risky. If it fails, it could open the door to incorporation into the borough of Haines, Ward said.

''It could happen whether we did it or not, so we may as well go down with guns blazing,'' Ward said.

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