Petersburg is hoping for legislative help to boost the size of a state land entitlement that comes with the formation of a new municipality. A local committee is recommending the borough seek all of the un-spoken for state land within Petersburg’s boundaries.

The land entitlement is an incentive the state provides for forming a new municipality. The state has told Petersburg its entitlement is around 1300 acres of the more than 18,000 acres of available.
Petersburg’s timing on forming a borough has impacted how much the municipality can select. It can only choose from the state land in the borough that hasn’t already been designated for another use. Land grants to the university, Alaska mental health trust and Southeast state forest have trimmed the pool of available land and also decrease the percent of that remaining land that Petersburg can choose.

Municipal land selection committee member Dave Kensinger thought the state has limited what Petersburg could pick. “You know most of the merchantable land, something you could log, or make a property development out of has either been given to mental health or the university,” said Kensinger. “So basically what we got left is we can see when we’re going through this process isn’t that much of a valued land.”

The committee has already gone through the available parcels and compiled a list of it’s top recommendations if it’s stuck choosing only the 13-hundred acres. The committee used a selection criteria focusing on land that could be economic development parcels, like rock pits, boat ramps and a mothballed ferry terminal at the southern end of Mitkof Island.

Chair Rick Braun said the most valuable land is accessible by both land and water. “Like, you got highway access and beach access, that’s the most valuable,” he said. “And closest to town is the very most valuable. And as you get away from town it’s gonna be less. If you don’t have road access it’s less, if you don’t have beach access, it continues to be less and less and less. And most of what we got is the latter.”

While it’s ready to recommend a list for 13-hundred acres, the committee agreed to seek more than that amount. That could require legislation to increase Petersburg’s entitlement. 14 of the 18 boroughs in the state have gone that route. One of the most recent and closest to home is Wrangell. Initially granted just under two thousand acres, that borough was eventually awarded nine thousand acres in a bill pushed through the legislature in 2010 by Wrangell republican Peggy Wilson.

Committee members agreed to seek the entire 18-thousand acres of vacant, unappropriated and unreserved state land within the borough.

Kensinger thought Petersburg had a chance asking for legislation that didn’t cost the state money, given Alaska’s budget crisis. He also thought the borough could make some simple arguments. “We’re just asking for what every other borough when they became a borough got in the state,” he said. “We’re not asking for a lot, we’re not asking for more. Just because we’re at the end of the process.”

Committee chair Rick Braun agreed, bringing up the possible reduction or elimination to state revenue sharing, a payment to municipalities. “Each community has to be more self sufficient, has to develop their economies as best they can. This is the best way for the state to help them do it.”

Committee members identified other parcels that it would recommend the borough acquire if that amount is increased, along with specific reasons for needing those parcels. The request will go along with Petersburg’s mayor and two borough assembly members as they visit Juneau to meet with legislators later this month.