Signs posted on the front door at the Petersburg Public Library describe details of the facility’s closure from Covid-19. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

What do you do when your community is 200 residents too big to have a say in how it will reopen its local economy? The Petersburg Assembly found out that you must follow the State.

The group met Wednesday in a special meeting to discuss what they’d like to see for reopening. But as KFSK’s Angela Denning reports, it ended up being a moot point after they learned Petersburg has too many residents to have a different plan than the Governor Mike Dunleavy.

At the meeting, borough assembly members thought they would be answering questions from Governor Dunleavy’s office, which was seeking input from communities about reopening their economies. However, before the meeting, Mayor Mark Jensen said he found out the State only wanted to hear from communities with less than 3,000 residents. Those smaller communities can have their own local plan. Jensen said since Petersburg has about 3,200 residents the borough’s attorney said they must follow the governor’s plan.

“His mandate will supersede anything the borough can do,” Jensen said.

Governor Dunleavy announced Tuesday afternoon that some businesses like restaurants and salons could reopen Friday, if they followed certain health guidelines. That’s part of a five-step plan the State has for reopening the economy.

So the population threshold was unwelcome news for several Petersburg Assembly members who were hoping to come up with their own local plan.

“I find it a little hypocritical that somebody who advocates for smaller governments won’t let smaller governments make decisions for their people,” said Assembly Member Taylor Norheim.

Some assembly members like Jeigh Stanton Gregor had hoped to work the Petersburg Medical Center to see what the safest way to reopen locally would be.

“In this time, I look to the medical community,” he said. “They’re the people who living this every day and I want to make sure I hear from them.”

Assembly Member Chelsea Tremblay said they’d already heard from health care workers that they don’t have enough medical equipment if there was a local outbreak. Also, seasonal workers from out of town will be showing up soon.

“We need more tests dramatically and we need access to proper protective equipment for our medical professionals,” said Tremblay. “We need assurances that if we were to need more and quickly that we would be able to access them.”

Assembly Member Bob Lynn suggested they ask the State for permission to have their own rules. He said it couldn’t hurt to send a letter.

“Maybe we should be asking for more local control–even though we’re above 3,000–to be able to open some things that we think that are appropriate and to make some of those decisions on a local basis,” he said.

However, Karl Hagerman, who is the Incident Commander for the Petersburg Emergency Operations Center, basically said it won’t do any good.

“When the Governor was speaking about small communities he was not talking about Petersburg,” Hagerman said.

Hagerman said he’s already tried to get the state to increase the population cap in order to let Petersburg make up its own rules for traveler mandates but that was ultimately rejected.

“I think we are going to be stuck with whatever the Governor decides as the right moves to reopen our economy,” he said. “I don’t think we have any control over it at this point.”

Assembly member Jeff Meucci suggested the borough does what it wants anyway.

“It doesn’t really make much difference to me what the Governor says about the law of the land,” Meucci said. “That makes no difference to me. All I’m thinking about is our businesses in town and our 3,000 people.”

However, Mayor Mark Jensen said the state’s mandate would legally supersede anything that the borough could come up with.

One assembly member, Brandi Marohl, supported the Governor’s reopening plan as is.

“I’ve looked at it and I think that it looks good,” she said. “I don’t that we have much say in it anyway and I think there are a lot of people in town that are ready to get back to work and open up shop. So, as long as they can do it in a safe way, good for them.”

The assembly decided not to take up a second issue of the Governor’s proposed mandate for independent commercial fishing vessels. The proposed mandate the assembly had was an old draft and Mayor Jensen said they could meet again when they get the updated document.