Oil and other resource representatives, local politicians and a few Kenai Peninsula residents testified Monday at the first of 10 hearings on a ballot initiative that would re-establish a coastal zone management program in Alaska.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who is overseeing the statewide hearings, granted 15 minutes of argument to two officials on both sides of the issue. The Sea Party, the organization behind the ballot initiative, asked Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Linda Murphy to speak in support of the program. Lorna Shaw, the external affairs manager for Sumitomo Metal Mining Pogo LLC and the co-chair of Vote No on 2, spoke in opposition of the program.
It puts the Peninsula at risk during a volatile period, Shaw said.
"(Oil and gas) exploration slowed to a crawl last year," she said. "Now, in the midst of a mini-boom, a new program will put the brakes on investment and projects, because it adds more red tape."
Resource representatives echoed Shaw's concerns while local politicians and residents were split in the decision to establish a coastal management program.
The program allows local communities to have a say as decisions are made about projects slated for federal land or waters. Its purpose is to aid developers in navigating permitting processes, but opponents say it hampers development.
Alaska's previous coastal management program lapsed last year after lawmakers failed to save it.
Under a 2010 state law, hearings on ballot initiatives are required to be held before the election that will decide the measure. This initiative is the first to fall under the law.
Treadwell answered the public's questions following a brief overview of the proposed new program.
The cost of the program -- until the federal government certifies the program -- is estimated at $5.4 million, according to Gov. Sean Parnell's Office of Management and Budget. The state Commerce commissioner, however, provided a first-year program estimate of $2.9 million.
When asked, Treadwell said the high estimate takes uncertainties into consideration.
Public testimony centered on whether or not the new program would add an extra layer of bureaucracy to coastal projects.
Jon Faulkner, owner and president of Land's End Acquisition Corp. and candidate for state House, said he agrees that local communities need seamless coordination between state and federal permitting processes, but the proposed coastal management program does not achieve its intended goals.
"I'm an Alaskan, and all I'm trying to do is build local economies," Faulkner said. "It's my opinion that opportunities for local input for costal development and the permitting processes are extensive and adequate without this measure."
State agencies already are responsive to concerns and the federal government isn't, he added.
Rep. Paul Seaton, of Homer, said this initiative is a rare circumstance in which the federal government is allowing state and local voices significant input on conditions of permitting on federal lands.
"This coastal management plan gives boroughs and certain unincorporated areas significant consultation as the feds make decisions on projects," Seaton said.
The alternative to a new program, he said, is big government, in the sense that federal authorities would exercise total control over permitting rights for projects.
"The North Slope was developed under the previous (coastal management) plan, which is similar to this plan," he said. "No plan is perfect, and I anticipate the Legislature to make adjustments."
Those adjustments will likely include the restriction of third-party appeals (for proposed projects that end up in court), limiting the program's land reach and specifying time limits for permitting processes, he said.
Anchor Point resident Ann Bayes recalled a forum organized by the previous coastal management program in her community. The forum, which occurred 10 years ago, centered on future natural gas development in the area, and many resource agencies were present to answer locals' concerns, she said.
People gathered in a local gym and discussed the issue in a round-table setting, she said.
"I believe ... development in Anchor Point is going well because we were afforded that opportunity to have the forum, and find out what was going on, and where to follow up," she said. "We lost something with the loss of the previous management program.
"Although I appreciate the taxes the (extraction industries) pay, I also feel that it's very important to make the state livable for its citizens, not just industry."
Industry representatives all testified in opposition of the initiative and shared similar concerns.
Tim Jones, speaking on behalf of Cook Inlet Energy, argued the proposed program is flawed and adds a layer burdensome red tape.
The program makes obtaining permits for projects more difficult for the small energy company, he said.
"Cook Inlet Energy cannot wait through unreasonable delays of projects, as we have to apply through multiple agencies," Jones said.
The federal funding, which would not be implemented until the program is running for two years, is not significant enough to cover negative economic impacts, he added.
Lisa Parker, Apache's spokeswoman, said the old management program was good, with clear and defined parameters.
The new initiative stifles Apache's ability to move forward with projects, she said. The corporation holds a significant number of leases in Cook Inlet.
The second hearing took place in Bethel on July 3, and the third hearing is scheduled for July 9 in Anchorage.
The initiative is on the Aug. 28 primary ballot.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.