Townsite service area is one third sea water
December 13, 2018
One third of the town site’s 20 square-mile service area is water, according to a realization by the Haines Borough administration.
In October, borough planner Holly Smith plugged boundary points into a parcel map before local elections, illustrating that the waterway from Battery Point to Taiya Point and across Lutak Inlet to the ferry terminal is within the town site, and within police jurisdiction.
“Every time you say you’re going to provide a service to the townsite, then that includes that watered area, and there’s implications to that,” public facilities director Brad Ryan said.
It means one of two things, according to police chief Heath Scott, “It’s either they want us to enforce law in that area and they need to equip us to do so, or they need to change borough code.”
The Haines Borough Police Department lacks both a boat and marine training, Scott said, both necessities for the department to serve on the canal.
The Upper Lynn Canal is technically a “navigable waterway” overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Alaska State Troopers. Scott said the police department has been called for backup in the past. The harbor has a 16-foot aluminum ski and wildlife trooper Trent Chwialkowski has a 20-foot boat that police have used in past water rescues.
In nearly three years, there have been three waterway issues in the borough, according to Scott, including a 2017 plane crash at Glacier Point that state troopers and the Haines Volunteer Fire Department responded to; a man injured on the rocks along Lutak Road in 2018 that police and emergency rescuers responded to using the harbor’s skiff; and the 2018 drowning of a man on an Alaska Excursion tour that troopers, police and fire responded to.
Similar to Haines, Petersburg police defer to troopers for law enforcement in the waterway, but their team is trained and equipped for assistance.
Petersburg’s townsite service area extends about 2,000 feet into the Wrangell Narrows, though the local police don’t typically respond to calls in the channel, according to borough manager Stephen Giesbrecht. “We act as backup to (the) wildlife trooper,” Giesbrecht said. He said Petersburg has a harbor security boat and some people in the police department and in the harbor who are trained how to use it.
In Sitka, the police department has an emergency response boat they share with the fire department, according to Community Affairs Director Megan Bosak. Bosak said the Sitka PD has trained officers in water rescue in the past, although state troopers respond to events in the water within five miles of the shore.
Although Haines Police would defer to the coast guard, NOAA, or troopers for a criminal investigation in the Upper Lynn Canal, Scott said that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a fast response time. “People act like the Coast Guard is like some ethereal fairy,” he said. “The Coast Guard is going to have timeline conditions and you could be waiting for two hours for a plane.... and the trooper (could be gone) with his boat.”
Skagway police chief Ray Leggett said that in his 14 years as chief, he’s never needed to enforce law on the water. “I think I would have some concern if they came out and said ‘you have some jurisdiction down the canal’ because we don’t have the equipment or training for it,” Leggett said.
The plotting was requested by Borough Clerk Alekka Fullerton, Smith said. According to Fullerton, the intention was to get a clear view of the townsite service area prior to local elections on Proposition 1 for policing out the highway.
Around the same time, duck hunting season was beginning, and Ryan and assembly member Will Prisciandaro started a conversation about hunting. Prisciandaro brought up the issue at a Fish and Game Advisory Committee meeting on Nov. 30.
“It was brought to my attention because people wanted to duck hunt out there, and you’re actually within city limits and you could get a ticket for discharging a rearm within city limits,” Prisciandaro said. The fine is $300.
Because it’s not state law, Trooper Chwialkowski said he wouldn’t cite someone violating borough code.
Prisciandaro said he hopes to either rewrite the code, or exempt the fine in specific areas within the canal, similarly to the golf course, for the purpose of hunting waterfowl. He said he’s working on his proposal and will bring it to the assembly sometime next year.
According to Smith, the administration isn’t sure why the boundary is inclusive of significant waterways.
“When you’re looking at it, it’s kind of a strange boundary for a townsite,” Smith said. “It could be that at some point people wanted to tax boats or barges.”
Prisciandaro speculates that the reason for the boundary was an effort to avoid surveying costs.
“Taiya Point and Taiyasanka Point were two known triangulation points in 1909,” he said. “So when they went to the edge of city limits, they just shot to a known triangulation point so it kept a lot of surveying costs down.”
The last time Haines boundaries description changed was in 2002, when the city incorporated a 6.5-mile annexation granted in 1999.
“I think the question is: Is the borough comfortable with this being part of the townsite service area?” Ryan said.
Borough manager Debra Schnabel, who was on the consolidation committee merging townsite and city in 2002, said that she was unaware that the service area included so much water, but it didn’t surprise her.
“It’s certainly worthy of a discussion,” she said.