State commission agrees to reconsider annexation requests
Just when it seemed like the annexation battle was winding down, the state agreed to re-open the discussion on two Bristol Bay communities requests' to expand their boundaries.
At a Jan. 10 teleconference meeting, the state's Local Boundary Commission agreed to reconsider its decision to support Dillingham and Manokotak's efforts to each annex part of the Nushagak Commercial Fishing District — a years-in-the-making decision.
Dillingham and Manokotak sought to annex new territory largely as a way to collect a fish tax and get more revenue from the fishery; Manokotak has also said it wanted to regulate some of the activity, like drinking, that occurred on the set net beach where much of the community relocates each summer. But other Bristol Bay communities have opposed the idea that those two communities should collect all of the revenue from a resource that others say belong to the entire watershed.
Under the plan the commission approved in December, Manokotak would add 155 square miles to its boundaries, most of which are the Igushik Section beaches and waters. Dillingham would add about 278 square miles — the majority of the rest of the water and beaches in the Nushagak District, except for the set net beaches nearest to Clark's Point and Ekuk.
That discussion will be reopened at a meeting tentatively planned for Jan. 24, based on an argument from Ekuk and other villages that something went wrong in the decision-making process.
The decision from the Jan. 24 meeting is expected to be turned around quickly enough to be passed on to the state Legislature by Jan. 26, which is the deadline for consideration this year.
The commission approved those boundaries after public hearings in each community in November, and in December decision-making meetings in Anchorage.
But that was just the latest in several iterations of the annexation effort. After a previous effort to annex the Nushagak district failed, Dillingham applied to instead use the Legislative Review method to annex the entire Nushagak district, and Manokotak submitted a competing petitio?for the Igushik section, where many of its residents fish.
Subsequent staff reports and state administration recommendations offered a variety of solutions to the competing petitions, from denying the requests and suggesting a borough, to amending and adopting the petitions.
That was the route the commissioners, who are appointed to that role and typically have a background on local school boards or borough assemblies, eventually went with, setting out the new proposed boundaries.
But annexation opponents successfully argued for reconsideration, which can be based on one of four things: that there was a substantial procedural error in the original proceeding; that the original vote was based on fraud or misrepresentation; that the commission failed to address a material issue of fact or a controlling principle of law; or, that there is new evidence or a matter of public policy has become known.
Accepting the reconsideration request does not guarantee a new outcome, but the assertion that those criteria were met generally means the outcome could change.
Ekuk's petition, which was submitted on behalf of Ekuk, Clark's Point and Portage Creek, referred to several issues, many of which were referenced by the commissioners who supported reconsideration. Those included a failure to follow state law regarding a city annexing a large unpopulated area correctly, failure to consider whether a city is the appropriate entity to manage an entire region, failure to fully vet the implementation plans required as part of an annexation petition, and other issues.
A minority of commissioners were steadfast that the 2016 action was appropriate, and opposed reopening the issue.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.