Bill removing coastal zone appeal passes House

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House passed a bill Wednesday that removes a citizen's right to ask for a state review of coastal zone program decisions.

Most Democrat and Republican legislators agreed the current law isn't working and frustrates both developers and those protesting projects.

''The process is no longer meaningful to anyone,'' said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

The way the law works now is those wanting to do projects in a coastal zone must receive a state finding that their project is consistent with the coastal plan for that area.

After the state 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 state Coastal Policy Council.

But in deciding whether to reject the agency's decision, the council can only look at whether the petitioners' comments were fairly considered by the agency, not whether they have merit.

As a result, citizens have never succeeded in having a decision reversed through the petition process, said Patrick Galvin, director of the Division of Governmental Coordination.

However, the petition process can take more than a month, and oil industry officials say it has delayed work on North Slope drilling projects.

The House Oil and Gas Committee sponsored the bill. Committee Chairman Scott Ogan said he told his committee to be ready for a barrage of protest when the bill came up for a hearing.

''It didn't materialize,'' Ogan said. ''Everyone realized the system is broken.''

Kerttula said she had qualms about voting for the bill, but she hopes an improved process can be developed.

Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, cast the only vote against the bill.

She agreed the system hasn't worked well. ''But it's part of the public process, and it allows the little guy to get his voice heard,'' Kapsner said. ''Why muffle people entirely?''

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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