Hoonah petitions to form a borough that would include Glacier Bay

Hoonah has submitted a petition to the Alaska Local Boundary Commission to create the state’s 20th organized borough, which would include the city and some lightly populated outlying communities.

The Xunaa Borough would include Hoonah, as well as Game Creek, Elfin Cove and Funter Bay — and most of Glacier Bay. The potential borough’s name is a closer match to the Tlingit language word for the community.

“Voluntary incorporation is preferable to the potential alternative of either having a different borough government imposed upon residents by the state or leaving this entire region, except the existing City of Hoonah, unorganized,” city officials wrote in the petition.

In addition, city officials wrote, the proposed area includes “all of the Huna Tlingit’s historic territory” except for lower Chilkat Peninsula land that has already been incorporated in the Haines Borough. The area includes subsistence hunting and fishing grounds.

“The ability of the Huna Tlingit to influence future decisions regarding these lands is of critical importance to the Tribe,” according to the city government.

According to the 2020 census, there were 931 Hoonah residents, the vast majority of the 980 total residents of the proposed borough. It would be the state’s third-smallest borough in population, after Yakutat, at 700 residents, and the Bristol Bay Borough, at about 860.

The new borough would incorporate more than 10,000 square miles of surface area, including more than 4,000 square miles of land — larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined — and more than 6,000 square miles of water, according to the petition.

Its boundaries would stretch from the Yakutat and Haines to its north, Juneau and Chatham Strait to its east, Sitka to its south and the Pacific Ocean to its west.

Under the petition, Hoonah’s city government would be dissolved. The new borough would have a 1% seasonal sales tax, though residents of the area of the former city of Hoonah would continue to pay the 6.5% sales tax the city currently collects, sparing those few residents in outlying communities the larger tax.

The Local Boundary Commission has the power under state law to decide whether to accept a petition after a several-month process. If the commission votes to accept the petition, then the residents of the proposed borough would have the final say by voting in an election on whether to form a borough.

The 90-day public comment period started Dec. 1. Under a schedule posted on the commission website, staff must issue a report on the petition by Aug. 4, followed by a public meeting in Hoonah on Sept. 10. The formal written decision would be issued on Oct. 11.

If the commission votes to accept the petition, there would be an election in the proposed borough after the written decision.

If the petition is successful, Xunaa would be the first new borough since Petersburg in 2013.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.


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