Dillingham's request to annex the Nushagak commercial fishing district is officially on hold while a competing request from Manokotak catches up.
The City of Dillingham has long sought to annex the Nushagak district and collect a fish tax. The last effort was overturned in 2014, and the city council voted in January 2015 to submit a new petition. A final version of that was resubmitted in June, starting the clock on the state's process for considering the request, including public comment periods. In response, the City of Manokotak submitted its own request to annex part of the fishing district in September. The two petitions overlap in the Igushik section of the Nushagak district.
The state's Local Boundary Commission unanimously agreed to consolidate the two petitions during an hour-long meeting in Anchorage on Sept. 25. That will slow down the process for considering Dillingham's request, but shouldn't change when the matter eventually could go to the Legislature for approval in 2017.
Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby has long fought to see the Nushagak commercial fishing district annexed to collect a raw fish tax for the city.
"We were disappointed because we had hoped that our petition would stay on track and keep moving forward," Ruby said the day the decision was made. "We're anxious to see if they can follow the schedule that they described and that the commissioners even questioned. You know. Will it slow down the petition? The LBC staff seemed to think that it would only be a short period and that it would still be in front of the Legislature in 2017."
Manokotak petitioned in September to have the petitions merged. After the Sept. 25 meeting, Mayor Melvin Andrews said that the commission's decision will enable the two communities to work together.
"With the previous petitions that were submitted they were going to be worked on separately, so we'd be like, in competition with Dillingham," Andrews said. "But now, with the petitions consolidated, on the same schedule, we can work together."
Dillingham's petition is paused while Manokotak's catches up. Manokotak's request is still being reviewed by the state, but the city told the commission that if it's sent back for technical corrections, they'll make them as quickly as possible so as not to delay the process.
Andrews said Manokotak is on board with trying to get the issue in front of the Legislature by 2017. The Legislature sits as the assembly for the unorganized borough in Alaska, which includes communities such as Dillingham and Manokotak that aren't part of a borough, and is responsible for final consideration of annexation.
Commissioners also noted during the meeting that the petitions can be unconsolidated later in the process if necessary.
The commission has also looked at a borough in the region that could collect the tax and distribute it to multiple communities. A prior petition to do so was rejected, but the commission is still discussing the idea.
When asked if the City of Dillingham would be willing to make the request for borough formation, attorney Brooks Chandlar said the city wasn't willing to lead the effort to incorporate a borough at this time, and would prefer to continue on the current path to annexation. He added that if annexation goes through, it could encourage residents of the region to reconsider a borough.
Commissioner Bob Harcharek also asked for more information about how the commission could support borough formation to be presented at the next meeting, which is expected to be held in November.
KDLG's Hannah Colton contributed to this story.
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.