There were several empty seats in Petersburg’s assembly chambers at yesterday’s meeting, with only four of the seven-member assembly in attendance. However, they pressed forward to make big decisions about several plots of land. They passed one resolution to sell borough property, and another to make a last-minute pass to appeal for more land from the state. 

Petersburg’s borough assembly met yesterday in a near-empty chamber. City Manager Steve Giesbrecht, Assembly Member Scott Newman, Vice Mayor Bob Lynn, and Mayor Mark Jensen were all excused. In Mayor Jensen’s absence, the four remaining assembly members appointed Dave Kensinger to chair the meeting.

The first item of business in front of them: an application from Petersburg’s tribe to buy Borough property. PIA is looking to purchase a small lot on the corner of Haugen Drive and 12th Street, in the area surrounding the building where they’re headquartered. So far, no other parties have spoken up about their interest in the 0.31 acre plot, which is valued around $52,000. 

At the meeting, PIA’s Tribal Administrator, Chad Wright, said the Tribe isn’t completely sure about what they want to do with the plot. But they have some ideas.

“We’ve talked about doing housing, storage, or retail space — or maybe a combination of a couple of those,” said Wright. “If the new hospital relocates in that area, it may be enticing to have some retail space.”

The assembly of four approved PIA’s application — though they couldn’t decide how they wanted to sell the land — in either a public auction, or through direct negotiations with the Tribe.

PIA has expressed their preference for the latter option. Assembly Member Thomas Fine-Walsh also spoke in favor of moving into direct negotiations.

“I feel like one of the advantages is the possibility that we could offload this piece of property for a reduced amount of money,” said Fine-Walsh. “In return, that would allow PIA to invest more money into the property. I think this is just a bit more efficient. And I think also a bit more respectful way to go about this, owing to the fact that we are dealing with a federally-recognized entity here.”

Ultimately, that part of the decision was kicked over to the next meeting on August 21st.

The next big item on the agenda was a resolution to appeal a decision handed down by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, which denies the Borough ownership of two parcels of land. One parcel is located at Prolewy Point along the Kupreanof shoreline, and the other at Hood Point, which is adjacent to Beecher Pass State Marine Park.

Community Development Director Liz Cabrera reported that the likelihood of a successful appeal is low. But, she said, it wouldn’t cost the Borough too much time or money to at least try. And the property in question could be a boon for Petersburg.  

“Waterfront property is always worth acquiring,” said Cabrera. “That’s just because it could be used for amenity land, or it could be used for future transportation. Though, the likelihood of winning the appeal is not great.”

The resolution passed, and the Borough will move forward with the appeal. If the assembly loses that appeal — and should they decide to push the issue any further — their next step would require going to court, at further cost to the Borough. 

In other business, Borough Clerk Debbie Thompson reminded the community about volunteer openings for the upcoming election on October 3rd.

“There’s a few jobs,” said Thompson. “You can be a registrar, which would mean the people that come in to vote: you just find them on the voters list and have them sign, verify they are who they are, give them a ballot, and then they get to go vote. You can man the ballot box, which is after voting: people take their ballot and put it in a black box that puts it down into a hat, reads it for us, and puts it down into a sack that holds everything secure.”

This was also the final meeting for Chris Basinger, who has covered the assembly for two years as the reporter for the Petersburg Pilot. Assembly Member Jeff Meucci thanked him for his service to the community.

“He’s a very pleasant and kind individual,” said Meucci. “And he doesn’t hang us out to dry — or, doesn’t hang me out to dry! I just wanted to appreciate his hard work. We’re gonna miss you.”

Basinger is set to return to his home in Texas — and the Pilot’s newest reporter, Olivia Rose, will step into his shoes next week.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect the correct location of the two parcels of land the Alaska Department of Natural Resources denied Petersburg Borough.