Sand Point petitions to expand city limits

Nov 28, 2016

Hoping to collect more fish tax revenue, Sand Point officials have filed a petition to add 250 square miles to Sand Point.

Fishing fleet at anchor in Sand Point, 2010.
Credit Aleutians East Borough

KUCB, Unalaska: Officials in Sand Point have wanted to expand city limits for years, but they've never filed a formal petition until now.

The Local Boundary Commission (LBC) signed off on their application last month, starting a lengthy annexation process that could add about 250 square miles to Sand Point — a community that currently holds just 30 square miles on the western edge of Popof Island.

In the last year, local leaders have increased their efforts to annex the rest of the island and much of its surrounding waters. City Administrator Andy Varner said the goal is to make sure the community doesn't lose out on revenue from the local fishing industry.

"If fishermen live and reside in Sand Point — if they use city services, if they use the clinic and the harbor, if their kids go to school here — then we feel those tax dollars should be directed to the community," said Varner.

But right now, that's not always happening. Each year, local fishermen catch roughly $3 million worth of salmon and groundfish that are ultimately sold outside city limits.

"Fishermen live in Sand Point, and they deliver fish to a tender that's around Popof Island, but not in our city boundaries," said Varner. "Those raw fish tax dollars are lost to other communities."

Based on its two-percent fish tax, officials estimate that widening city boundaries could add up to $75,000 more to Sand Point's annual budget. While that's not exactly a flood of new funding, Varner said it would help — financially and otherwise.

The annexation would bring Sand Point's landfill and rock quarry within city boundaries, as well as remote waters that the city already responds to during vessel emergencies. It would also make it easier to develop roads leading to popular recreation and fishing spots farther out on the island.

Varner said it's hard to predict if anyone will oppose the annexation, but city officials have already spoken with the Unga Corporation, which had concerns that the petition could affect its own land claims. Varner said Sand Point's proposal would not annex any land on Unga Island.  

The LBC-mandated public comment period is open until Dec. 7. The petition will eventually go before the state legislature, as the land proposed for annexation does not have residents who can vote on the issue. 

Varner said the final decision will likely be made during the 2018 legislative session.