HB 77 needs work

Central Kenai Peninsula residents earlier this week had an opportunity to share their thoughts on House Bill 77 during a hearing conducted by Sen. Peter Micciche. The message he was asked to convey to his colleagues when he returns to Juneau next month was clear: the bill is not acceptable as written.

Of primary concern to many commenting on the legislation Monday is the removal of public input on permitting decisions, and the loss of personal access to water reservations. The bill would also grant the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources broad authority to issue general permits for economic activities on state lands — while also limiting the ability of individuals to appeal those decisions.

Those are big concerns. Indeed, the Clarion reported that even DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels said that the measure is “far-reaching and controversial.”

The intent of the bill is to streamline the permitting process. One of the top concerns of companies seeking to pursue economic development activities on state lands is navigating the permitting process, which many say is more complex than in other areas of the country. And even when permits are issued, appeals have the potential tie up a project to a point where it is no longer economically feasible. The bill would limit what Fogels called the “misuse” of the process — filing appeals or applications for water reservations in an effort to stall projects.

However, government agencies frequently cite the state’s rigorous permitting process when defending a decision. HB 77 appears to make that process a little less rigorous, and it would allow government decisions to be made with less transparency.

Sustainable economic development is crucial to Alaska’s future. But when it comes to managing the state’s resources, Alaska’s citizens should not be asked to give up their rights, nor should the public process be restricted, in the name of economic development. As Sen. Micciche said at the hearing, the bill needs work.

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