The Petersburg borough is one year old this month (January) and is still going through the process of transitioning to an expanded municipality. Besides creating new borough ordinances and assessing the value of land within Petersburg’s boundaries , local officials are also considering which state land will be claimed by the new local government. A committee making recommendations on land selection started going over maps of the available parcels earlier this week.
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Selection of state land is one of the incentives for forming a new borough. Not all of the state’s holdings are available to the new municipality; in fact, it’s just a small portion. The lands are called vacant, unappropriated and unreserved or VUU land and it’s acreage that has not already been selected for grants to the university, Alaska Mental Health trust, Southeast state forest or other state uses. State law says the new borough is entitled to no less than 10 percent of the VUU land within its boundaries.
A December 6th letter from the Department of Natural Resources says 10 percent of the available land is 18-hundred acres. However the DNR says that amount will be reduced by 457 acres, because of a prior municipal entitlement already given to the old city of Petersburg. That leaves a selection of over 13-hundred acres, 1,374 to be exact.
Committee members thought the borough should be seeking more than that. However, chair Rick Braun wanted to go ahead with the selection process. “I would suggest out of the VUU that we have been given, that we select the 13-hundred something acres and get what we can now and proceed with a legislative appropriation or some other way to get the additional land instead of holding up the whole process,” Braun said.
Wrangell Republican Peggy Wilson got a bill passed in 2010 increasing the land given to the Wrangell and Haines boroughs. Under that bill Wrangell was entitled to just over nine thousand acres and Haines over 31-hundred acres. Committee member Ron Buschmann thought the borough could convince legislators that the Mental Health Trust and University have already selected the most valuable state land in the area and Petersburg should be granted more of what’s left.
Dave Kensinger thought the borough could make an argument for 10 percent of what’s been granted to the Alaska Mental Health Trust in the area. “If mental health got a hundred acres we should be able to get another 10 acres in unreserved state land. So it should increase our allotment,” Kensinger said. “Cause the state’s given up a lot of land to non-tax-paying entities in the borough, with mental health land and university land.”
The land available for selection have been further reduced by the creation of a Southeast state forest, with acreage that could be used for future timber sales.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend the borough seek legislative help to increase its land selection. That was the only recommendation made by the committee during its second meeting. However, the group started looking through maps supplied by DNR of the available lands.
Committee members discussed for what purpose the borough should be selecting . Responses ranged from rock pits, to drinking water protection to general economic development.
Buschmann wanted to target acreage that could be developed. “You know economic development lands but also like some waterfront land that we could sell at some point. I mean the mental health has made a tremendous amount of money off the lands they sold, between the city, the old city limits and Papkes Landing, and use that to fund some of things we’re gonna have problems funding, like rebuilding the Papkes dock and some of that stuff.”
Papkes Landing is 10 miles south of downtown Petersburg and the borough may take over a state owned dock and boat ramp there, separate from the borough land selection process. There’s no available state land to select at Papke’s – but a parcel not too far away at Falls Creek drew some interest from the committee. There was also support for land on the Kupreanof Island shoreline just north of Sasby Island. That’s along one possible road route connecting to the nearby community of Kake.
Several other possibilities also had interest from committee members. One was a waterfront parcel on Southern Mitkof that holds a mothballed parking and ferry terminal, once used for a ferry connection to Prince of Wales Island.
That area also includes a shoreline log facility where logs can be transferred into the water and rafted to away to a sawmill.
The committee also discussed the possibilities for potential rock pits for generating revenue in the new borough. Ultimately they made no recommendations yet to the borough assembly on specific parcels. They plan to meet again in January. The borough land selection and conveyance process could take a total of three to five years.