Petersburg is sending a letter to top officials in the state’s Department of Natural Resources asking for updated information for the borough’s land entitlement. That land grant for the municipality was increased last year in legislation passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. The borough has until October 1st of this year to submit all its requests for land from the state.
Petersburg’s assembly voted 7-0 to send a letter to Brent Goodrum, director of the Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Mining, Land and Water. The letter asks for an updated map of available state land near Frederick Point. Petersburg has already sent in its request for state land throughout the new borough but has since learned that some portions of the land sought at Frederick Point are designated for the Southeast State Forest and not available for selection.
“There’s been confusion on the maps we’re supposed to use for selecting our land and we haven’t been getting a very good response from DNR,” mayor Mark Jensen explained at an April 16 meeting of the Petersburg borough assembly. “And like I spoke earlier in the mayor’s report, if Randy Ruaro from Senator Stedman’s office thinks it’s necessary for (the borough’s municipal land selection agent) Liz Cabrera to travel to Juneau and actually sit down with them have the director from Anchorage call in, it might be to our benefit.”
DNR provided maps of available land in 2013 following the incorporation of the Petersburg borough but those maps did not show some of the state forest land. Fast forward to this year and the borough asked for updated maps. However the state agency responded in an email to the borough that the maps are “not intended to provide the basis for a community’s applications for land selections. It is incumbent on applicants to perform their own due diligence and produce their own applications and maps.” The email also says state law does not require that agency to identify lands for the borough.
Petersburg’s letter seeking that information will also be copied to Petersburg’s representatives in the state legislators. Earlier this year, the borough also asked the Division of Forestry to drop plans to log the parcels at Frederick Point and another selection in Thomas Bay.
In other business, the assembly heard an update on the process to hire a new police chief to take the place of Kelly Swihart, who is retiring at the end of June. Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht told the assembly that the borough has received 19 applications and one has since withdrawn because of the advertised 80-95,000 dollar salary. The deadline to apply is Friday, April 20th. After that date, Giesbrecht said they’ll be sending out questionnaires to candidates meeting the job requirements.
“And then when those come back, we’re gonna hope to be able to schedule a meeting with the public safety advisory board so they can look at the answers to the questions and the résumés and kind of decide from that group which ones they think are worth moving forward in the process,” Giesbrecht explained. “So it will be a combination of them and then my review as well.”
The assembly also approved the first reading of a rewrite of borough code on sale and purchase of borough land. Among the changes are a provision giving the assembly the authority to approve an exchange of borough land and one to allow sale of borough land for less than the assessed value for economic development purposes.
In other decisions, the assembly voted 7-0 to give permission to a private land owner to apply to build a road across a borough lot near the cemetery. That road would allow a local corporation called RPM Holdings to access residential land on the uphill side of Mitkof Highway at Libby Strait. The property owners are hoping to subdivide the land for residential lots. The corporation was formed by several local families, Al and Shannon Peeler and their son Max, Ken and Stacey Madsen and Ted and Lynn Smith. Max Peeler requested the permission to apply for a road across the borough property and wrote that the land owners would pay for construction of the road and utilities, just under a tenth of a mile long across the borough lot.
Utility director Karl Hagerman was supportive of the concept because of the potential for new developed land to be added to the tax rolls. Assembly members were supportive too, although Jeigh Stanton Gregor admitted being a little confused by the process.
“The fact they have to request permission to apply, it seems kind of a backwards deal,” Stanton Gregor said. “I’m obviously going to be voting for this for a couple of reasons. One, I hope they have success with this subdivision and it works and two, even if I didn’t they’d still have a right to apply and go through the process. So it seems like a no-brainer to me.”
A land owner’s permission, in this case the borough’s, is required for someone else to apply for use of that land. That application will have to go to the planning commission for consideration.