Two representatives debated on Wednesday the merits of re-establishing a version of Alaska’s Coastal Management Program — one argued the idea would be bad for business, the other said it would be good for communities.
At a joint Soldotna and Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Lisa Weissler and Judy Brady discussed the measure that will appear before voters on the Aug. 28 primary ballot to establish a tweaked version of the program that expired in the summer of 2011. The Alaska State Legislature couldn’t agree on terms to extend the program, making Alaska the only coastal state in the nation without one.
The 35-year-old program was also up for consideration during this winter’s legislative session, but Gov. Sean Parnell and other lawmakers said they wanted voters to decide on the initiative this summer.
The idea is to create community boards and an Alaska Coastal Policy Board that would advise and comment on development and activity on federal land and waters.
Weissler, a natural resource law and policy attorney, said the coastal zone management program created by Ballot Measure 2 would let communities decide what resources are of local significance.
“Then in local coastal management plans, it is the communities that decide the best way to balance any potentially competing interests,” she said. “Under the initiative, local plans must follow criteria that is specified both in the initiative and that will be established in regulation. This way, communities will have an effective voice and not a veto power in the state and federal decisions that impact the local coastal areas.”
Brady, a former executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and a former state natural resources commissioner, argued what will appear on the ballot is not the previous program — one she said made for a constant “fist fight.”
Rather it creates a “new powerful and complex resource management bureaucracy with new permitting authority over almost all projects in the state and land management authority over both state lands and municipal lands,” she said.
Brady also claimed the coastal policy board that would be established consisting of 13 members, nine appointed from districts around the state, would have more power than the “entire constitutional government” and would not be elected.
“This one is going to be a hard one — it’s 15 pages, the longest the state has ever had on the ballot by double and it changes 18 statutes,” she said. “... If you don’t understand it, vote no. Don’t take the risk on our future.”
Weissler said the program is pro-development because the process established through regulations would resolve potential conflicts before they occur allowing development to proceed with fewer hurdles.
“With coastal management we make the choices about what we care about and how we want to manage coastal development,” she said.
Brady’s slideshow stated the program would hold many consequences for development, cause uncertainty in the business community and that it could stop Cook Inlet and North Slope oil development.
“Anything in this borough that requires one or more state permits is affected by coastal management and you have to have a consistency determination,” she said.
Weissler said the program would allow Alaskans — not Outsiders or the federal government — a stronger voice at the federal level.
“Once our coastal management program is in place, then the federal government has to listen to and work with the state to resolve Alaska’s concerns before approving coastal permits in the coastal area,” she said.
Said Brady, “This is sold as something that would give us a seat at the federal table. We already have seat at the federal table.”
Brady said she wondered why the initiative didn’t mirror House Bill 106, the bill that left the House with a 40-0 vote, but was stopped short in 2011’s special session after the Senate made several changes.
“They wrote a hybrid initiative that picked up some stuff from pre-reform, added some new stuff, added the very pieces the House and Senate couldn’t agree on after the compromise,” she said. “This is an initiative almost guaranteed to fail in action because pieces of it already failed in the past.”
Weissler argued Ballot Measure 2 would be an opportunity to take “a good program and make it better” over several years.
“It is about getting to ‘yes,’ where everyone gets a share of the ‘yes,’” she said.
Brady argued the idea of coastal zone management is a good one and that what Weissler said the measure could be is a nice thought, but Ballot Measure 2 wouldn’t deliver.
“All the things that Lisa said about what it could be are true, I believe,” she said. “And those of us who fought this initiative also support it, the compromise in 106. This isn’t it, this doesn’t do it.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org