Bill would remove coastal zone appeal step

Posted: Friday, February 22, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A legislative committee is looking at doing away with a citizens' appeal process that oil companies complain can delay drilling projects on the North Slope.

The House Oil and Gas Committee heard a bill Thursday that would remove a provision in state law that lets citizens petition for a review of decisions made by a state agency.

Companies proposing to do work in a coastal zone must receive a determination that the project is consistent with the coastal zone management plan for that area.

Patrick Galvin, director of the Division of Governmental Coordination, said the Knowles administration doesn't oppose the change. The current provision causes delays, but provides citizens with little genuine recourse, he said. No one has ever succeeded in using it to overturn a decision.

Oil and Gas Committee Chairman Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, allowed testimony Thursday by invitation only, and no one but oil industry supporters and Galvin testified. Ogan said he'll take general testimony on Tuesday.

Sue Schrader, a lobbyist for the Alaska Conservation Voters, said that the group's member organizations do not have a position on the measure yet.

Ken Donajkowski, who manages Phillips Alaska Inc.'s permitting program, told the committee a citizen used the provision to delay five Phillips' projects on the North Slope this winter.

A citizens' petition can drag out a final decision by up to 50 days, which can cause serious problems for companies trying to work during the winter months when ice roads can be used, Donajkowski said.

''The delays brought about by this petition process can result in abandoning a drilling program,'' Donajkowski said.

All the projects in question did go forward, he said.

Galvin said the petitions in question were filed by Joseph Akpik, a resident of the North Slope Borough. Akpik could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.

After the Division of Governmental Coordination has made its decision, individuals who live in the affected area and who commented when the agency was considering the issue can petition to the Coastal Policy Council, Galvin said.

But in deciding whether to reject the decision, the Coastal Policy Council can only look at whether the petitioners' comments were fairly considered.

Galvin said the petition process can be a source of frustration for citizens, who want to discuss the merits of the agency's decision but find the law only allows them to discuss the procedure.

Citizens have never succeeded in having a decision reversed through the petition process, Galvin said. Since July 1999, 17 notices of petition from citizens have been filed.

The provision's limited value to citizens is outweighed by the administrative burden it creates, Galvin said.

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