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Signatures gathered for coastal initiative

Deadline Jan. 17 to submit petitions for 2012 ballot

Posted: January 5, 2012 - 9:07pm

Forget watching football games or other traditional holiday activities. One of several sponsors of an initiative petition seeking voter-approval for an Alaska Coastal Management Program, Mako Haggerty was busy gathering signatures.

Haggerty, who owns Mako’s Water Taxi and represents the southern peninsula on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, and other signature-gatherers across the state have until Jan. 17, the day the Legislature convenes, to obtain and submit to the Alaska Division of Elections the necessary 25,875 signatures of qualified voters in order for the initiative to be on the 2012 primary election ballot, said Carol Thompson, division absentee and petition manager.

“It went pretty well,” said Haggerty of the number of shoppers who stopped on their way in or out of a local grocery store to add their names to his petition booklet. Even better were those asking for their very own booklets to pass around to guests at holiday parties.

On June 30, 2011, Alaska’s Coastal Management Program came to an end after the Legislature and governor failed to agree on an extension for the state program established in 1977 as part of a voluntary partnership between the federal government and the nation’s coastal and Great Lake states and territories. The Alaska Sea Party, a statewide grassroots organization of which Haggerty is a volunteer, supports re-establishment of a coastal management program that:

• Gives Alaskans a voice in coastal development;

• Balances competing demands on coastal resources and uses;

• Gives the state power over federal decisions involving coastal development;

• Creates a coordinated permit review process.

Without such a program, Alaskans have lost their role managing an area comprising 38 percent of the nation’s shoreline, says Haggerty. The Kenai Peninsula Borough alone has 2,536 miles of shoreline and a coastal area measured at 11,202 square miles.

“Without this, all we can do is sit in the waiting room until the developers come up with their own plans,” said Haggerty. “There are 34 participating states and territories in the coastal management program. Alaska isn’t one of them and we have more than a third of the entire coastline of the United States.”

Alaska is, in fact, the only coastal state to lack such a program, according to Glenn Gray of Juneau, who has spent eight years consulting on coastal management issues in Northern and Western Alaska, 11 years working in the state program prior to its demise and volunteers with the Alaska Sea Party.

“There’s no other program like this that states can assert their state’s rights. Once the program went away, now the state can’t require oil and gas activities to be consistent with coastal management standards, including Department of Environmental Conservation laws, which are generally a little more comprehensive than federal laws,” said Gray.

Susan Haymes, legislative analyst for the state’s Legislative Research Services, noted that consequence as well as others in a report on the program’s demise she prepared in February 2011.

“For example, the state would not be part of the formal review process or be able to formally comment on federal projects like Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leases, timber sales in the Tongass National Forest, or oil leases under the Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction,” wrote Haymes.

Also lost are federal grant funds amounting to approximately $2.5 million annually according to Haymes.

Another loss is the program’s coastal project questionnaire that helped “guide a project applicant through the permitting process,” said Tom Crawford of the state’s Office of Project Management and Permitting. “It helped a project applicant understand what permits the projects would likely require ... and who the people were that they needed to talk to, both state, federal and local governments.”

Crawford said his office is working to create a similar document that would apply statewide, “not just coastal regions, but all of Alaska.” That document has not been finalized.

Loss of the program also means “the potential for an increase in third-party litigation of development permits,” as well as the loss of the state’s ability to permit deep-water ports, according to Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

During the last legislative session, Senate Bill 45 and House Bill 106 were submitted at the request of Gov. Sean Parnell to extend the Alaska’s coastal management program. Support for extending the program came from around the state, including Resolution 2011-005 from the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Numerous changes were made to the original legislation. What began as a one-page document grew to more than eight pages by session’s end. After the Legislature failed to reach an agreement before adjourning in May and again during the special session in June, the program expired June 30.

Jerome Selby, mayor of the Kodiak Island Borough and supporter of the initiative, hasn’t given up on the Legislature reaching agreement.

“Our objective is to have a program for the state of Alaska, and there’s a couple of ways to do that. Our preferred way is to have the Legislature go through the normal process, have hearings around the state and get a lot of public input and develop a coastal program that really works for Alaska’s people. As backup, if they don’t address it, we’ll put it on the ballot and let the people of Alaska decide,” said Selby, adding, “I don’t think the people of Alaska realize they’re being closed out of the federal decision-making process.”

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