Hoonah is attempting to form a borough again. Juneau is opposing some of it.

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A map of the proposed Xunaa Borough boundary and the existing City and Borough of Juneau boundary. (Courtesy of City and Borough of Juneau)

The Juneau Assembly voted on Monday to oppose part of the City of Hoonah’s plan to create Alaska’s 20th organized borough.

The new borough would take in more than 10,000 square miles of land and water, including Glacier Bay, Chichagof Island, and more. But a small part of the proposed borough overlaps with territory that the City and Borough of Juneau once made an effort to annex.

The Mansfield Peninsula and Horse and Colt Islands are small pieces of land at the northern tip of Admiralty Island, near Juneau. They’re lightly populated, with a few homes and cabins. Juneau once explored annexing the area, but dropped the effort in 2019.

Now, those parcels are part of a much larger area that the city of Hoonah hopes to include in a new borough that would include the lands traditionally used by the Huna Lingít clans — a plan that’s seen several versions over the last 30 years.

On Monday night, the Juneau Assembly voted 5-3 to formally oppose the part of Hoonah’s plan that includes the peninsula and islands. Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon said she’s not interested in renewing the effort to annex the area, but she also doesn’t want to see it become part of a new borough.

“I just think the area’s ties to Juneau are much stronger for a variety of reasons than the ties to Hoonah,” she said. 

The Xunaa Borough petition — pronounced like Hoonah, with a slightly guttural “h” —  would form Alaska’s 20th borough.

That would likely mean the Hoonah School District would get more state funding, and it would allow the borough to implement a 1% seasonal sales tax during the summer cruise season. 

Right now, the Mansfield Peninsula and the two islands are not part of an organized borough, which means residents are not subject to local government regulations or taxes. Juneau’s discussions about annexing the area ultimately fizzled out, but they hinged on the idea that the area has strong economic and cultural ties to Juneau.   

Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale said she supports the partial opposition of the plan because it could allow a future Assembly to decide if Juneau wants to annex it. 

“If we don’t file this, we lose the opportunity to petition in the future. So this land just goes to the Xunaa Borough if the boundary commission agrees,” she said.”

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs voted to not oppose Hoonah annexing the area. She said there are compelling reasons to have the land under Juneau’s jurisdiction — but not much to gain by keeping it unorganized. 

“It’s not adding it to the Juneau borough, we’re just saying ‘Hey don’t put it in Hoonah, but also just leave it unorganized,” she said. “I think Juneau is fine as it is and I don’t think we need to make this comment.”

Assembly member Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake also voted not to oppose the annexation. She said she spoke with Alaska Native leaders in Juneau, who supported Hoonah annexing the land. 

In the end, the Assembly’s formal opposition is only for that specific portion of land in the Xunaa annexation plan — but not the overall plan for a new borough. That means if the state Local Boundary Commission agrees with Juneau’s assembly’s petition, it would keep the peninsula and islands in an unorganized borough, for now.

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