By Jenna Kunze

The Haines Borough Planning Commission will take up a review of private roads maintained with borough funds, following a suggestion last week from resident Don Turner Jr.

The request came after Turner and other residents questioned the ethics of why the borough plows a section of Fourth Avenue that is privately owned by borough manager Derba Schnabel. Schnabel’s trailer park on Fourth Avenue is unplatted, and has been maintained by the borough since her father negotiated an agreement in 1986. The borough also plows private sections of Cathedral View Road, Bear Trails Lane and Oslund Drive. Mount Riley Road, with a public easement on private property, is also fully maintained by the borough.

“I believe if a developer puts a water system in and doesn’t want to bring up the roads up to standards, they should have to maintain the roads themselves,” Turner told the planning commission. “The borough should not be maintaining roads that aren’t up to standards and dedicated to the city.”

Last week, and after Turner submitted public records requests digging into the history of how the borough came to maintain Schnabel’s private road, Schnabel brought her potential conflict to the assembly for direction on whether or not she owes back payments on her property, which is in the process of review for platting. Assembly members were largely unconcerned about the issue—except for assembly member Tom Morphet, who said free plowing needs to be addressed.

Borough planner Holly Smith said that, although not ideal, it is not uncommon for the state or municipalities to maintain roads without owning them.

Alaska Department of Transportation Southeast spokesperson Aurah Landau said the state has maintenance contracts with boroughs, but they do not include private roads.

“The state can have service agreements where we are paid to provide service and we have maintenance contracts in locations where we don’t have staff where we pay to have state assets maintained,” she said. “Maintaining privately owned roads is not a practice at DOT.”

Petersburg Borough plows some private roads that were never accepted by the borough due to their substandard quality. “In some cases, we do plow snow for emergency access,” borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said.

The Wrangell, Skagway, Juneau, Hoonah and Ketchikan municipalities don’t maintain privately owned roads, according to their local staff.

“I think one of the good things Don Turner Jr. brings up is that the borough has never been asked why we maintain roads and why we don’t,” Smith said this week. “We don’t have a policy set.”

There are many reasons some roads should be prioritized over others, Smith said, including how many residents a road serves, if it’s used for commerce and if it’s an arterial road or a collector street.

Smith sees the planning commission’s effort to look into road maintenance as a positive conversation for the borough.

“I’m excited that they made this motion,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this conversation for two years. Yes, we’re going to talk about roads we don’t own but we’re also talking about road maintenance priorities.”

The planning commission will discuss roads at its July 11 meeting.