Alaska should have a better approach to industrial development

Last week, Gov. Sean Parnell created a municipal advisory board to weigh in on issues surrounding a natural gas pipeline project that could eventually tie communities together from Prudhoe Bay to Nikiski.

While it’s laudable that the governor chose to allow several of those communities to weigh in — representatives from North Slope, Fairbanks North Star, Denali, Matanuska-Susitna, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough will be able to weigh in — we find other parts of the pipeline development process to be troubling.

The Municipal Advisory Gas Project Review Board is meant to “develop a framework for assessing the impact and benefits, especially on communities, of a future Alaska natural gas line,” according to the executive order.

The state has agreements with the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, TransCanada Corporation, BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobile — but has given no consistent assurance to the municipalities and boroughs that could be affected by the project.

Further, the advisory board is subject to the open-meetings laws and will therefore be unable to see confidential portions of the agreements and negotiations — further limiting its utility.

Several issues, including how land development could affect property tax revenue for the boroughs, payments in lieu of those taxes and how existing oil and gas properties will be affected needed to be addressed and while the state was busily negotiating an agreement with the producers to build the pipeline — communities were left largely voiceless in the process.

Preliminary negotiations on the pipeline included provisions that could take away a municipalities’ ability to levy property taxes on the pipeline and we’re left to wonder why the state would consider those kinds of concessions and include them in negotiations with commercial interests before developing an advisory board of those affected communities. The “after-the-fact” inclusion does not foster trust between the various players in the process and a house divided against itself cannot stand.

A state as resource-rich and dependent as Alaska ought to have a more consistent and thorough policy on responsible oil and gas development — one that includes all of the affected stakeholders and provides clear guidance on the roles of individual communities when multi-billion dollar projects come knocking.

The lack of organization statewide plays out on the local level when Kenai and Soldotna are negotiating with the same state agencies and companies that the borough deals with for unincorporated areas like Nikiski — yet there is no strategic plan, board or community liaison between the cities and the borough; one that presents a united front and vision to the companies seeking to develop the area.

The residents of the Kenai Peninsula borough deserve to know where we will be next year, in five years, 10 years and 20 years down the road rather than the haphazard string of leases and varying terms available now.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough and each municipality contained within needs an organized policy of industrial land development; but cannot be expected to develop one when the state seems to lag so far behind in its own strategies and policies forcing private and public interests to work together in the best interests of the people whose resources are being exploited.

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