Split the Name Again

On February 14, 2012 · 3 Comments

In the first installment I discussed various Louisiana Parishes that shared the same root name, differing only by the addition of an east or a west directional prefix. I noted that sharing of county or county-equivalent names in this manner was surprisingly rare in the United States. The only other place where one sees this happen is in Alaska, and even there it requires asterisks and explanations.

Aleutians East and West

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This would seem on the surface to be the most clear-cut Alaskan example of the phenomenon. The Aleutian Islands form a 1,200 mile (1,900 kilometre) chain of volcanic isles extending west of the Alaska Peninsula, separating the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. Imagine the difficulty of administering such a long, skinny, sparsely inhabited region. It seems to make some intuitive sense to split it into pieces.

While the units have similar names, pay particular attention to the difference too: (1) Aleutians East Borough (map); versus (2) Aleutians West Census Area of the Unorganized Borough (map).

Alaska is the sole remaining U.S. state where the tertiary level of government continues to form. There are occasional county changes in the Lower 48 too (the creation of Broomfield County in Colorado in 2001 comes to mind) but by-and-large it’s rather static. A different situation exists in Alaska. Early in its statehood, Alaska passed the Borough Act of 1961 which created a single unorganized borough that covered the entire state. Slowly, from within the vastness of that great landmass, boroughs emerged and continue to be born.

Acreage not falling within a borough remain within the unorganized borough, an area that’s larger than any state besides Alaska itself. Local government does not exist except for a few school systems and a handful of widely-scattered incorporated towns. The State of Alaska provides basic services to residents of the unorganized borough directly in all other areas of life.

The Federal government and the State of Alaska decided to break the unorganized borough into several sections for purposes of the 1970 Census, a practice that continues today. The designations exist solely for statistical purposes. Each Alaskan Census Area of the Unorganized Borough is considered a "county equivalent" unit. However, they still do not represent units of governance.

Thus, it’s hard to say if Aleutians East and Aleutians West actually reflects the referenced geo-oddity since Aleutians West is part of the unorganized borough. We’ll have to see if the name carries forward should it ever split from the unorganized borough.

An interesting point of trivia I uncovered about the Aleutians East Borough during my research: they don’t have a sales tax and they don’t have a property tax, but they do have a 2% raw fish tax, which serves to demonstrate the underpinning of their economy.

Southeast Fairbanks and Fairbanks North Star

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A similar and even more tenuous situation exists for Southeast Fairbanks (map) and Fairbanks North Star (map). The Southeast Fairbanks Census Area is another designation of convenience within the greater unorganized borough. It doesn’t have much of a reason to organize anytime soon, either. There are barely 6,000 residents and it doesn’t have any incorporated towns.

Fairbanks North Star is anchored by the City of Fairbanks. The metropolitan area located within the borough includes about 100,000 residents. That’s a huge deal in interior Alaska. Still, the northern designation in its name refers to the star rather than to Fairbanks proper. Thus it doesn’t even conform to the model we’re seeking for this little geo-oddity.

Totally Unrelated

Steve from CTMQ is planning a state highpoint trip that will include Oklahoma. In his research he’s learned that it’s located in Cimarron County, and further that "Cimarron is the only county in the United States that touches five states: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and its own, Oklahoma."

I think that’s pretty amazing. Can anyone confirm or refute that?

On February 14, 2012 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Split the Name Again”

  1. Mr Burns says:

    It definitely touches all five of those states (though the common border with Morton County, Kansas is only about 3/4 of a mile). Is it the only one? I’m sure if there’s another we’ll find out about it on TMC first!

    • January First-of-May says:

      Just checked through a map of US counties, and it’s pretty definitely the only one.
      In fact, outside of the whole Four Corners thing, there’s only a handful of corners bordering four states: Mohave County, Arizona; Union County, New Mexico; Bara County, Colorado; Washington County, Maryland; New Castle County, Delaware; and Berkshire and Worcester counties in Massachusetts. (I might’ve missed one or two, but more than that’s unlikely. Either way, no more fives.)
      You could just make a claim that Suffolk County, New York (aka the eastern half of Long Island) also borders five states (NJ, CT, RI, MS and NY itself), but that would really stretch the definitions of “county”, “state” and “border”. By most standards, Suffolk County only borders three of those five (of which two by water).

      • Ariel Dybner says:

        Hidalgo County, New Mexico, borders four states as well – Arizona, Chihuahua, Sonora and New Mexico itself. Webb County, Texas borders three Mexican states – Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, as well as Texas. I believe that Webb County is the only county in the United States to border three separate foreign states, although the Unorganized Borough in Alaska (it isn’t really a county), borders the rest of Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the Province of British Columbia and has a maritime border with the Russian federal subject of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug (the part of Alaska the famous 12MC reader can see from her house!).

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