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Rural Alaska

Boundary commission reverses course, denies Dillingham expansion

  • Author: Molly Dischner, Bristol Bay Times
  • Updated: February 5
  • Published February 5

During a lengthy meeting, the state agency tasked with vetting local requests to petition the Alaska Legislature for expanded boundaries changed its decisions for two Bristol Bay communities.

At a Jan. 24 meeting convened to reconsider decisions made on Dillingham and Manokotak late last year, the state's Local Boundary Commission reversed its earlier decisions.

Under the commission's most recent decision, Dillingham will not be allowed to seek legislative approval for a boundary expansion. Meanwhile, Manokotak could still see its boundaries expanded, but not by as much as previously planned.

That means that Manokotak — but not Dillingham — could collect a fish tax this summer, and the Nushagak commercial fishing district is likely to remain mostly untaxed. Those decisions were made by four of the five commissioners, with one absent.

The decisions are the latest in a very long effort by the two communities to incorporate all or part of the Nushagak Fishing District into the cities, so as to institute a fish tax in the district. And while the Dillingham request is settled, unless there is a court challenge, the Manokotak expansion must still undergo legislative review before it becomes final.

During the reconsideration meeting, the commission determined that it had not followed the statutory guidelines correctly when it previously approved the annexation requests.

Now, Manokotak will seek to expand its boundaries by a smaller area than before, focusing on the Igushik setnet fishing area of the Nushagak District.

Much of the community relocates from Manokotak to Igushik to setnet each summer, and the commission recognized the need to provide city services there and to collect revenue to support those services. In the newest decision, the commission wrote that the proposed boundaries for Manokotak should accomplish the goal of annexation in a straightforward manner.

"The amended boundaries establish an area where a raw fish tax can be administered utilizing the information available from fish ticket reporting data," the decision reads. "The amended boundaries will primarily include fish caught using set net methods and will have minimal anticipated potential tax revenue from fish caught using drift net method."

The newest proposed boundaries for Manokotak also add some additional setnet beaches that are part of Fish and Game's Igushik statistical area, but hadn't been included in the prior set of boundaries, which could have caused confusion when a tax was instituted.

The Manokotak decision was sent to the Legislature after it was made in late January. If no action is taken, the new boundaries go into effect in 45 days. The Legislature's other option is to disapprove it by a concurrence of both houses.

And while the commission determined that the setnet sites at Igushik could use local law enforcement, trash service, and other city government oversight — the waters of the Nushagak District did not have a similar need, which resulted in a decision not to allow Dillingham to expand its boundaries.

According to the decision document, two of the commissioners said that "while the City of Dillingham demonstrated a need for the water to raise revenue, a body of water that is 279 square miles in size and is utilized by multiple communities does not exhibit a reasonable need for city government by a single city."

The decision also noted that Dillingham had not proposed significant new services, but wanted more revenue to do what it has already done. Now, it would likely take a borough to tax the entire fishing district.

This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is reprinted here with permission.

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