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Legislature holds fate of Homer annexation

Decision about controversial measure must be made by March 8 or it becomes law

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Homer's two-year-long ordeal is nearly over as the south Kenai Peninsula community's controversial petition to annex surrounding territory faces its final hurdle -- the Alaska Legislature.

In meetings scheduled this week, the House and Senate Community and Regional Affairs committees each will consider the same Joint Resolution 34, which proposes to reject Homer's annexation. The House committee takes up the resolution Thursday, the Senate on Friday. Both committee meetings will be teleconferenced in Homer.

If the joint resolution passes both houses, the annexation is dead. Failure to pass in either house by March 8 means the annexation will become law.

Homer began the annexation effort in December 1999, the month the city began investigating its feasibility in earnest. By spring 2000, the Homer City Council had voted to submit a petition developed by the city administration to annex more than 25 square miles of surrounding territory.

A storm of protest, the first fierce winds of which were blowing through town even before the council approved the petition, became a hurricane. Picketers took to the streets; a few opponents went to court, where some related issues remain to be adjudicated.

Nevertheless, the petition and its supporting material went to the Alaska Local Boundary Commission staff for analysis, accompanied, however, by more opposing briefs and negative correspondence than had ever been generated by any annexation since statehood.

Not until late last year was the boundary commission staff ready to present its final report to the commissioners, who eventually recommended approval of the annexation to the Legislature -- albeit a much-truncated version amounting to roughly 4.6 square miles. That much, at least, had met the criteria; addition of the territory to the city was determined to be in the best interest of the state.

For its petition, Homer chose an annexation method called legislative review, a procedure that put the final decision in the hands of state lawmakers. It had no provision for a vote by those to be annexed. Legally, it didn't matter if 100 percent of those affected opposed the idea.

The Alaska Supreme Court upheld that no-vote process in the 1960s.

That idea sticks in the craws of many residents of Homer's outlying areas, some of whom have continued a well-organized lobbying effort to get lawmakers to oppose annexation and, ultimately, to change the way the legislative review process works.

Joint Resolution 34 has to pass both houses of the Alaska Legislature by March 7, or the annexation automatically becomes law. Changing the annexation law itself must await the fate of other legislation.

Perhaps the most telling clause in the resolution -- one that reflects the concerns raised by annexation opponents about the process -- is the fifth "whereas." It declares that the Legislature "recognizes the need for the legislative review process as a tool for local governments to address growth but believes that this tool is one that should be used as a final process and with as much participation of all affected populations as possible." The resolution then goes on to resolve to disapprove the annexation.

Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, is a member of the House committee, while Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, chairs the Senate's committee. The committees have held joint public hearings on the petition in recent weeks.

Thursday's House committee meeting and Friday's Senate committee meeting could herald the final outcome. If both committees move the resolution to the floors of their respective chambers, lawmakers may look to Scalzi and Torgerson to see how the local representatives vote.

Torgerson said Tuesday in Soldotna that he would not hold his committee meeting on Friday if the House committee doesn't take specific steps to approve the resolution opposing the annexation.



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