Lands outlined in yellow on southern Mitkof Island would be transferred to the borough government. (Image from the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mining, Land and Water, Land Conveyance Section)

The state of Alaska has issued the first of several expected preliminary decisions to transfer some land to the Petersburg borough. It’s part of a large land entitlement that goes along with the creation of the borough government in 2013.

When Petersburg expanded its boundaries in 2013, the size of the municipal government’s state land entitlement increased. Then it increased a whole lot more with the passage of a 2017 state law. Most of of that land has yet to change hands and it’s a long process. But this decision identifies 1,452 acres the state proposes to turn over to the municipal government.

Rachel Longacre is section chief for the state’s Land Conveyance Section, part of the Department of Natural Resources.

“It looks like a really good decision going forward,” Longacre said. “My staff did a great job of identifying areas that rather than just retain or postpone large swaths of land we really tried to boil it down to how much can we get to the borough immediately because we know that the boroughs need to use this land for their community and that’s important to us.”

The 2017 legislation increased Petersburg’s share of state property so this decision just covers about 10 percent of that. The total entitlement is 14,666 acres. The state had already granted 458 acres to the former city government, leaving 14,208 acres still to transfer. Two more preliminary decisions are expected out sometime on additional acreage.

The parcels covered under this decision were the first priorities identified by a local selection committee in 2016. The borough’s community and economic development director Liz Cabrera said they were priorities identified before the 2017 bill.

“So when we thought that perhaps we would only be eligible for about 1400 acres and so these were the priority selections,” Cabrera explained. “And I think it still makes sense to have these go through first since these were the ones that we really thought would be of benefit to the borough in the long-term.”

The selection committee focused on the available state land that could be easily used for economic development. That includes waterfront property that can be sold for homes. The request also includes rock pits and boat ramps and the land around a mothballed ferry terminal at the southern end of Mitkof Island.

Other state agencies have weighed in on the transfer and the preliminary decisions follows some of those recommendations but not all.

As drafted, the state’s Longacre said the decision would reject some of the borough’s requests.

“Yeah there were a couple of areas that unfortunately due to the classifications or due to what the areas in we cannot convey it,” she said. “So there was 77 acres that were rejected, they’re within the Southeast State Forest. And then the other one is in a special use area. Both of those are LDAs, which is legislatively designated areas. Those are written into statute.”

The state is proposing to reject the borough’s request for the land immediately uphill from the South Mitkof Ferry Terminal, along with the log transfer facility known as Olsen’s Log dump and another log transfer facility at Woodpecker Cove. However other land near those places would change hands. It’s also postponing a decision on some of the land near Falls Creek that is close to fish habitat.

Other parcels that are proposed for transfer are near Cape Fanshaw and in Thomas Bay on the mainland near Petersburg, at Frederick Point and near the Cabin Creek Reservoir, on Three Lakes Loop Road near Falls Creek, on southern Mitkof near little Blind Slough and Woodpecker Cove, as well as several lots on Duncan Canal near Grief Island.

Once the land is transferred, the borough’s Cabrera saidit will ultimately be up to the Petersburg assembly to decide what to do with it.

“Whether these lands are to be retained or sold, I mean I think that’s a fundamental question,” Cabrera said. “We’ve in the past just speculated that there would be a combination of those things happening. But without any real specifics at this point, I think part of it was waiting to see what we actually ended up with and where before getting into the details of it.”

After public comment, the Department of Natural Resources issues a final decision which transfers management authority for those lands. The borough’s Cabrera says many of these parcels are already surveyed, which will speed up the transfer once that final decision is issued.

A public comment period on this decision is open through 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 12.