Census data

According to the latest census, the U.S. experienced its most sluggish growth since the Great Depression.

The board tasked with drawing new boundaries for Alaska’s legislative districts, based on population changes, met Monday, discussed results from the 2020 Census and began adjusting districts using computer modeling.

Boiled down, the census shows that cities, such as Fairbanks and Anchorage, lost people and certain rural areas, such as the North Slope Borough and the Municipality and Borough of Skagway, gained people, according to Eric Sandberg, demographer for the state of Alaska.

The Alaska Redistricting Board, led by Fairbanks businessman and former state senator John Binkley, is accepting proposals and developing its own draft maps that will be offered for public comment next month. Their meeting continues today.

Representatives from Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, backed by prominent Democrats and Doyon, Limited, told the board that they were working on maps to submit.

Alaska’s population growth slowed during the last decade more than during the last 100 years, according to Sandberg.

“Both Anchorage and the Fairbanks North Star Borough declined in population between 2010 and 2020, which is highly unusual,” the demographer told the redistricting board. “Much of the missing growth is in these two boroughs.”

The most growth happened in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Sandberg said. Growth was also seen Western and Northern Alaska, he said.

The highest rate of growth by new births was seen in Western Alaska.

“Large portions of Western and Northern Alaska grew faster than the state as a whole,” Sandberg said.

The only boroughs to experience positive migration — more people moving in than leaving — were Mat-Su, Kenai and Skagway, according to Sandberg.

In the Mat-Su borough, which gained 18,000 people and showed the highest growth this past decade, “there was growth all over the borough except for parts of Palmer,” Sandberg said.

“It was one of the few boroughs to experience a large amount of growth in this decade,” he said.

But the growth in the Mat-Su borough slowed during the last decade compared with the previous decade, 2000-2010, when the borough grew by 30,000 people, he said.

Fairbanks lost 1,600 people, according to the latest census, but Sandberg said he noted an irregularity with the count at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

For the 2010 census, UAF showed 1,400 people living on campus and that dropped to about 400 people for the 2020 census.

“It appears that there may be some issue with how UAF was counted,” Sandberg said. “We are thinking it could be Covid related.”

Fort Wainwright showed growth but Sandberg told the redistricting board that that could be related to a change in how soldiers are counted.

In 2010, overseas military members were counted in their state of origin. In 2020, deployed soldiers were counted in connection with their military post.

Sandberg told the redistricting board that the east side of the Fairbanks North Star Borough showed a decline in people since 2010, which came as a surprise because Eielson Air Force Base has been building capacity and added a couple of thousand personnel in recent years.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough gained about 3,400 people since the 2010 Census with much of that increase along the road system, according to the 2020 Census.

Sandberg characterized Southeast Alaska as having a mixed population growth and loss.

The Haines Borough is showing a loss of about 500 people.

“We’re still looking into the reasons why,” Sandberg said.

Sitka and Wrangel also declined. Downtown Juneau saw a population decline, while the Mendenhall Valley and the area around the Juneau airport grew.

In addition to Binkley, other members of the five-member redistricting board are: Melanie Bahnke, president and CEO of Kawerak, Inc., the regional nonprofit tribal consortium in the Bering Strait Region; Nicole Borromeo, executive vice president and general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives; Bethany Marcum, CEO of Alaska Policy Forum, a state policy nonprofit; and Juneau attorney Budd Simpson.

After hearing testimony and Sandberg’s presentation on the census, the board went into executive session with an attorney and afterwards discussed at length how best to divide up the work involved with redrawing Alaska’s legislative boundaries.

Much of the discussion centered on an approach by which they would divide up the state into five or six regions and work in small groups on the boundaries for each region.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.