LBC votes down Dillingham annexation, upholds smaller new boundaries for Manokotak

Jan 24, 2017

In a clunky five hour hearing to reconsider both, commissioner John Harrington called for vote, then re-vote, to see Dillingham's prior-approved annexation overturned.  The commissioners shrunk back boundaries for Manokotak to the mouths of the Igushik and Weary Rivers. Nushagak District likely to stay mostly tax free fishery for now.

In a "do over" of it's December 1 votes, the LBC voted down Dillingham's annexation petition, but approved Manokotak taking tract C, tract A, and a small area in between into it's city borders.
Credit State of Alaska

At a hearing Tuesday, Alaska's Local Boundary Commission voted down Dillingham’s annexation petition, and voted to adopt a smaller version of Manokotak's, restricting both cities' plans to raise local revenue from the fishery. Commission Chair Lynn Chrystal, who had supported both petitions, was on vacation and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Audio Transcript: Commissioner John Harrington of Ketchikan carried the day, steering the three other commissioners to his long stated view that neither city should take the fishing waters of the Nushagak Bay within its boundaries.

"I’m saying, number one, that the territory does not exhibit reasonable need for city government. And that territory is not compatible with the character of the city. And it does include a large area that is … that does not meet those allowable reasons for annexing a large geographic area," Harrington said.

That the commission was reconsidering the petitions after an exhaustive public process that resulted in both being approved December 1 was still a matter of debate for the commissioners, who were at various stages confused at best. Dillingham argued that the commission should have granted reconsideration only if it "failed to address a material issue or a controlling principle of law." Harrington said those black and white regulations didn’t matter to him when it came to the priority of overturning the original votes.

“I’m not worried about the minor little technicalities that, yes, we discussed all of this, and we made the wrong decision. And we are here to rectify that. And I think that becomes the key issue in today’s conversation.”

The vote to overturn Dillingham’s annexation was two-to-two and failed. Harrington pushed for another vote, labeled a "reconsideration of the reconsideration" by commissioner Darroll Hargraves, who did not support the move.

"There was a motion properly put on the table. It was voted on, and the result is the result ... Let the chips fall where they will," Hargraves said.

Nonetheless, the vote was retaken, and commissioner Robert Harcharek changed his vote. Thus, the LBC voted three-to-one against Dillingham’s petition, which they had approved less than two months and less than twenty minutes prior.

By the end of the meeting it wasn’t clear if Harcharek remembered how he’d voted as he said he wanted a message sent that the LBC had an important role to play in helping pass governing responsibilities down from the state level.

“The state, as we all know, is in a financial crisis. Anything we can do as the Local Boundary Commission in relieving some of those expenses associated with the responsibility currently being assumed by the state, all those must be considered," said Harcharek.

That was the case the city of Dillingham had tried to make as the reason for its annexation in hundreds of pages of supporting documents and during two days of public hearings. Both cities aim to levy a raw fish tax to help pay for services, efforts that have met fierce resistance from a group led by Robert Heyano and the Native Village of Ekuk.

The LBC then turned its attention to Manokotak, and again Harrington led the charge to change the earlier vote. This time, instead of denying the petition, Harrington said he wanted to see the set net fishery around the Igushik River outlet only within the city’s boundaries, not all of the waters of the Igushik section.

"There’s no question in my mind that the community of Manokotak views themselves and their community as essentially in two places, both in Manokotak and in the fishing grounds. There’s no permanent residents in the fishing grounds, but they made a case almost beyond question that the community considers, um, the name is, Section C, I can’t remember the name of that fishing village area …”

Over several hours discussion, the LBC redrew the boundaries of Manokotak’s petition to include the Weary River mouth, the Igushik River mouth, and a small stretch in between. How that will work for collecting a fish tax wasn’t clear.

Commissioner Harrington seemed pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing, as did Lavell Wilson. Darroll Hargraves was disappointed, saying the commission shouldn’t have taken up matters it had already voted on just because they were unhappy with the outcome, even though he voted in support of the reconsideration less than two weeks prior. Robert Harcharak, who chaired the meeting, seemed neither pleased nor disappointed with the outcome, but was noticeably confused throuought the meeting. 

The four commissioners will meet again Wednesday to finalize the decisions.

The Manokotak petition can still be sent to the Legislature for approval this session, but Dillingham’s long held hope to collect a raw fish tax from the Nushagak district fishery is likely dashed again, at least for this year.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.