Skagway pursues borough status

Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Skagway is determined to become a borough, despite a ruling by the Local Boundary Commission that doesn't meet certain characteristics of a regional area, as outlined by the state.

Now the town of 862 is taking its cause to court and the state's lawmakers.

In September, the boundary commission unanimously denied Skagway's petition to become a borough. At 443 square miles, the new borough would have been the same size as the existing city and would have provided the same services, according to the request.

But the commission, which reviews changes to the status or boundaries of boroughs and cities, said Skagway's petition met only eight of 18 required state standards.

The proposed borough didn't meet the geographic, social, cultural and economic characteristics of a regional area. And it didn't meet a 1,000-person borough population threshold.

The commission denied a request for reconsideration on Nov. 1 and Skagway plans to appeal in state Superior Court, City Manager Bob Ward said.

''The preliminary determination that we did not qualify as a borough was based upon a highly subjective evaluation that we were too small physically,'' Ward told the Juneau Empire. ''There is no definitive standard that says what the size of the borough should be.''

Essentially, Skagway was asking to become a borough through a name change, boundary commission staff member Dan Bockhorst said. The community didn't plan to change its boundaries or jurisdiction, he said.

Skagway has been pushing to form a borough because of concerns it might be added to the Haines Borough, Ward said.

''We don't have any fear that Haines is waiting to pounce on Skagway,'' he said. ''The greater potential is for Skagway to be put into the Haines Borough by the Legislature, particularly as it applies to school funding.''

In addition to a legal path, Skagway plans to take its concerns about borough formation to the state Legislature, Ward said. The community has asked the Alaska Municipal League and the Southeast Conference, a regional organization, for support.

''We're asking the Legislature to look at the Model Borough Boundaries Act and look at the standards ... with an eye to considering whether or not those things are still pertinent in the Alaska of today as opposed to the Alaska envisioned by the members of the Constitutional Convention in 1956,'' Ward said. ''I'm not sure if it will help us, but it may help the borough process in general.''

Meanwhile, the state is reviewing conditions in the state's unorganized borough this winter to see what areas meet borough incorporation standards. The study comes at the direction of the Legislature. The last borough formed in the state was Yakutat in 1992.

Alaska is the only state in the nation with unorganized regions. The state's 16 organized boroughs cover 87 percent of Alaska's population and 43 percent of its geographic area, according to a 2000 state report.

The state must give the Legislature its unorganized-borough report by Feb. 19.

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