Haines Alaska on Feb. 15, 2024. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

The U.S. Census Bureau rejected Haines’ appeal over the 2020 population count, which showed Haines’ population dropping by around 500 residents. 

“I’m deeply disappointed. I really thought that our response was compelling,” said borough clerk Alekka Fullerton, who worked on the appeal. “I was mad – it’s a big deal to our community.”

The bureau counted 2080 residents in Haines in 2020. The borough appealed that number in June. 

Fullerton said a few weeks ago, she realized the borough still hadn’t received a response about its appeal. She reached out to her contact at the Census Bureau, who told her the appeal denial had been sent to former mayor Douglas Olerud in November. Fullerton said she was frustrated that the letter wasn’t sent to her email, which was the one included in its appeal.

The letter from the Census Bureau was included in the Feb. 13 assembly  packet. 

“Our research found errors within the legal boundaries of your governmental unit, and we have made the corrections; however, the corrections did not change the counts for your total housing and population, so there is no change to your official 2020 Census counts,” Deborah M. Stempowski, an associate director for the Census count, wrote to Olerud. 

Fullerton said the borough still didn’t believe it had lost nearly 20% of its residents since the last count. She said the challenge took hours of painstaking work reviewing housing units. 

“We were very convinced our position was compelling. Apparently the Census Question committee agreed that we validly pointed out mistakes in the Census but that the mistakes found did not change the population determination,” Fullerton wrote in the assembly packet. 

Decennial census counts are used by the federal government to allocate federal funds. There’s no exact formula, but estimates suggest Haines’ population loss could represent more than $10 million in lost funds over 10 years. 

The state of Alaska does an annual population count that has showed Haines’ population has remained relatively stable over the past few years. Fullerton said her work with GIS contractor Gary Greenberg of Alaska Map Company found an additional 600 residents over the Census count. 

The Census Bureau said the revised housing counts will be available on its website in the coming months. 

Fullerton said her best guess as to why the Census Bureau didn’t correct its findings was because of the way the count is taken every 10 years as a snapshot. The count happened in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. 

“We’re a remote community without a lot of healthcare infrastructure, so I think our population was unusually low on that particular day,” she said. 

She said anecdotally, the community doesn’t feel like it has lost a fifth of its population. 

“If we had lost 500 people from town, why would we have a housing crisis?” she said. “We would feel it and there’d be a lot of empty houses.”