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City & Borough of Juneau v. State, Local Boundary Commn.

Supreme Court of Alaska

December 4, 2015

CITY & BOROUGH OF JUNEAU, Appellant and Cross-Appellee,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, LOCAL BOUNDARY COMMISSION, Appellee, and PETITIONERS FOR INCORPORATION OF THE PETERSBURG BOROUGH, Appellee and Cross-Appellant

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, First Judicial District, Juneau, Louis J. Menendez, Judge. Superior Court No. 1JU-12-00900 CI.

Amy Gurton Mead, Municipal Attorney, Juneau, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee City and Borough of Juneau.

Janell M. Hafner, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee State of Alaska, Local Boundary Commission.

James T. Brennan and Sara E. Heideman, Hedland, Brennan and Heideman, Anchorage, for Appellee/Cross-Appellant Petitioners for Incorporation of the Petersburg Borough.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 927

WINFREE, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

The primary issue in this appeal is whether the State of Alaska's Local Boundary Commission (Boundary Commission) violated the Alaska Constitution when it approved the incorporation of a new borough over the objection of an existing borough seeking to annex some of the area included in the new borough. We conclude that the Boundary Commission's decision complied with constitutional requirements and therefore affirm the superior court's decision upholding the Boundary Commission's incorporation decision.

Page 928

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In April 2011 the City of Petersburg petitioned the Boundary Commission to dissolve the City and incorporate a new borough. The proposed Petersburg Borough " consist[ed] of approximately 3,365 square miles of land and 982 square miles of water for a total of 4,347 square miles of land and water." In August the Boundary Commission accepted the petition and published notice.

In October the City and Borough of Juneau notified the Boundary Commission " of its intent to file an annexation petition that will pertain to some of the same boundaries as are at issue in the petition recently filed by the City of Petersburg." Juneau intended to annex almost half of the area sought for the Petersburg Borough, explaining that its proposed annexation petition and Petersburg's incorporation petition " will overlap with respect to 1906 square miles" that had " previously been identified by the Local Boundary Commission as the 'unorganized remnant' of the City and Borough of Juneau." Juneau requested that the Boundary Commission postpone the Petersburg proceedings " to allow for concurrent consideration and action (or possible consolidation as authorized by 3 AAC 110.430)" on the two petitions.[1]

In November Juneau submitted its annexation petition. Boundary Commission staff recommended denying Juneau's consolidation request, explaining that the Boundary Commission would have Juneau's annexation petition, Juneau's responsive brief in the Petersburg proceedings, and Juneau's comments, and that during the final hearing the Boundary Commission could amend the Petersburg petition. The Boundary Commission ultimately denied Juneau's request for consolidation or postponement, with one commissioner noting that " Juneau . . . will have opportunities to comment and [provide] testimony at the hearing."

Juneau subsequently opposed Petersburg's petition " to the extent that it ask[ed] the [Boundary Commission] to approve incorporation of an area more appropriately annexed to [Juneau]." Juneau supported its position with a report from the Juneau Economic Development Council emphasizing Juneau's ties to the contested area, and argued that:

Because the contested area has greater associations with [Juneau] than Petersburg, and because Petersburg cannot make the requisite constitutional, statutory, or regulatory showing justifying incorporation of the contested area into a new Petersburg borough, the [Boundary] Commission should amend Petersburg's petition to delete the contested . . . area from Cape Fanshaw north to the current [Juneau] borough boundary from any approved Petersburg borough.

Petersburg responded that Juneau previously had declined to seek annexation of the disputed area, and emphasized its own economic, transportation, communication, and historic ties to the area. Petersburg conceded that its proposed northern boundary could move south to exclude Tracy Arm.[2] But Petersburg argued that for the remaining contested area, the borough incorporation factors weighed in Petersburg's favor.

In February 2012 Boundary Commission staff completed a preliminary report recommending that the Boundary Commission amend the proposed Petersburg Borough's boundaries -- by removing all of Tracy Arm from the proposed borough to conform to the region's natural geography -- but ultimately approve the Petersburg petition. Juneau submitted comments objecting to some of the report's recommendations. Juneau argued that only " one entity with respect to the

Page 929

same contested area" may satisfy the constitution's requirement that " [e]ach borough shall embrace an area and population with common interests to the maximum degree possible." [3] Juneau asserted that the Boundary Commission had to determine whether Juneau or Petersburg " would embrace the overlap area to the maximum degree possible," and that " [g]iven the Report's failure to critically analyze [Juneau's] claim to the contested area . . . any final determination based upon the Preliminary Report would be an abuse of the [Boundary Commission]'s discretion." Juneau argued that it had more common interests and was more closely related to the contested area than Petersburg.

In April the Boundary Commission held a preliminary hearing on the Petersburg petition. Juneau expressed concern that the Boundary Commission would " decide [the] Petersburg petition in a vacuum according to whether or not Petersburg standing alone meets the standards of incorporation." Juneau explained:

[Juneau's] understanding is that the constitution requires [the Boundary Commission] to make decisions of these standards to the maximum degree possible. That you must make findings that wherever you're going to place this boundary the final municipality will have and share common ...

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