Whale Pass Harbor. Photo/Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Division of Community and Regional Affairs’ Community Photo Library

Whale Pass Harbor. Photo/Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Division of Community and Regional Affairs’ Community Photo Library

Whale Pass residents voted to become a second class city in an election that is wrapping up. The small community has about 50 residents on northern Prince of Wales Island. And as Angela Denning reports, most of the voters have shown strong support for the change.

It was a mail-in election and ballots had to be postmarked by January 3. While there could still be a few ballots coming in most of them have been counted. Unofficial results show about 80 percent of voters support incorporating Whale Pass.

The new second class city will encompass about 26 square miles of land and water. The new municipality will have one paid employee, a city clerk and will be governed by a seven-member city council which voters also chose during the election.

“I think it will bring organization to the community and it will help increase revenue,” said Daryel Donaldson, one of the candidates voted onto the council. He’s lived in Whale Pass for 17 years and would like to see it grow.

“I’d like to see improved harbor facilities, improved facilities for our library and community hall,” Donaldson said. “[A] little better fire protection, you know, kind of the whole gamut of public services, better road maintenance, things like that.”

Second class cities are not obligated by law to provide any particular service but supporters like Donaldson hope that’s just what Whale Pass will do. The town had a non-profit community association but Donaldson says the services it provided were limited and relied on volunteers.

“I think as an incorporated community we can go a little bit further with those services,” he said.

But not all voters supported Whale Pass moving to a city-status. Resident, Sharon Hillis, voted against it.

“I don’t think we need it,” Hillis said. “Everything’s about money.”

Hillis believes in the election process and her home was a local drop-off point for ballots. But she says she doesn’t think incorporation will bring in funding from grants and the State like some residents think it will.

“With the State being in such difficult financial times [I think] that they will discontinue some if not all of the money they give to cities because they’re already cutting important services like state troopers and education and I can’t see where giving money to a second class city is going to remain a priority,” she said.

And she worries taxes will come into play to help pay for the city.

Hillis and her husband have lived in Whale Pass for nearly 30 years. They moved there so he could build roads for logging which was active back then. She says the community has changed a lot in that time, most of the original families are gone.

“It’s just a different mindset now,” Hillis said. “People think they need to be taken care of now instead of dealing with things themselves.”

The community relies on small airplane service for supplies and mail. It’s connected to the Prince of Wales Island road system but it’s a long drive from some of the larger towns on the island.

Donaldson believes Whale Pass will retain its small, remote charm, even as a city.

“It’s a small community that cares for each other,” Donaldson said. “It’s a beautiful place to live. It’s got access to all the great outdoor living things that Southeast Alaskans enjoy. It’s just kind of a neat place.”

The election results are scheduled to be certified around January 19. When that’s done, Whale Pass will become the 116th second class city in Alaska.