Land in blue could be selected by the Petersburg borough under a bill awaiting the governor’s signature.

During a contentious legislative session focusing mainly on Alaska’s budget crisis, the Petersburg borough quietly scored a major win in the state capital this spring. Petersburg’s legislators got a bill passed to increase the land grant to the Petersburg borough. It passed without any votes of opposition in either the House or Senate and now just needs the governor’s signature to become law.

The bill would give Petersburg 14,666 acres. That’s roughly a ten-fold increase in the amount of state land the borough would be able to select within the boundaries of the new municipality. In fact if it becomes law, Petersburg will be able to take possession of almost all of the state land in the borough that hasn’t already been designated for another use.

Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins sponsored a version of the bill in the House. “Yeah a good, maybe even rare example of collaboration in this legislative session,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “There weren’t all that many pieces of legislation that passed both bodies this year because of the divided government we have. But this is one of them and I’m very glad it did pass.”

Kreiss-Tomkins is right about that, not many bills were approved in both the House and Senate this year. Of the 376 introduced, only 26 made it through in the regular session. The Petersburg land grant bill had no votes of opposition in either chamber. The bill’s sponsor on the Senate side, Sitka Republican Bert Stedman said he was surprised by that.

“Yes, normally because of the magnitude of the land increase but I’m very happy that there wasn’t significant opposition or frankly any opposition,” Stedman said. “I’m looking forward to the governor signing and having it finished off. I think it’s going to be very beneficial to the community of Petersburg over the next 100 years or however long it takes to move forward and develop and decide what they wanna do with these lands. It’s gonna take a few years to actually get the transfer completed, surveys and all that other stuff.”

The city of Petersburg, incorporated in 1910, received a small land grant from the state. This grant is the result of voters approving formation of the new borough government with expanded boundaries in 2013. Stedman explained that Petersburg’s history was a strong argument in favor of the land grant.

“I liked to remind people Petersburg’s one of the oldest communities in the state and one of the most self-reliant communities,” Stedman said. “So it was, I pointed that out to a lot of my colleagues. If there was a community that you want to get land to can actually have stewardship of it in a responsible way and be fiscally independent, Petersburg’s it.”

Stedman calls the passage of the legislation a big deal for Petersburg. “I think it’s one of the high marks of the community organization over the last 100 years of the community. This is a big deal to have this much property corralled up in the borough.”

Both legislators expect the governor will sign the bill.

“I have had conversations with the governor’s office about that and I’m pretty darn confident he will sign it,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “There was a fleeting chance it was gonna happen during Little Norway. We had just a little bit of a break before going back into session. Unfortunately that didn’t quite materialize because of a pressing legislative issue with RealID. But yeah that bill will get signed and I’m excited to be a part of it cause it’s great news for Petersburg and well deserved.”

Petersburg’s community development director Liz Cabrera and the borough’s lobbyist in Juneau Ray Matiashowski worked to get the bill through the legislature.

A committee of local residents met into last year to determine top priorities for a smaller land selection with the hopes of getting legislative approve to increase the amount. Now that looks like that could become reality.

The Petersburg borough plans to sell some of the land and develop some of it for rock pits or other uses. The state Department of Natural Resources values the total land grant at more than 78 million dollars.

Parcels are in Thomas Bay along with Whitney Island and near Cape Fanshaw on the mainland north of Petersburg. There’s also land at Falls Creek, 10 miles south of town along with Ideal Cove and Frederick Point on eastern Mitkof Island. On the southern end of Mitkof, the land around the moth-balled South Mitkof ferry terminal is available along with land at Woodpecker Cove. On Kupreanof, there are parcels just north of Sasby Island, around the Coho Creek drainage and near Beecher’s Pass.