Debate begins over coastal management vote

James Poulson/Daily Sitka Sentinel

JUNEAU — The battle over the Aug. 28 primary election ballot initiative to restore the Alaska Coastal Management Program began to take shape with the issue’s first “debate” of the campaign season at the weekly Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon on June 14.

“We now have some sense of the opposition’s line of attack on coastal management and it’s quite clear that we’re going to have a major battle to persuade the public that coastal management is an important tool for all of us Alaskans who live in this state in terms of providing a local voice on decisions affecting Alaska’s future,” said Bruce Botelho, the mayor of Juneau and a leader of the Alaska Sea Party, which sponsored the initiative, at a reception that evening.

The opposition group, “Vote No On 2,” presented a divergent message at the 45-minute question and answer session.

Kurt Fredriksson, a former commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation and co-chairman of “Vote No,” said that while Alaska needs a strong voice in federal development decisions, the initiative doesn’t meet its supporters’ claims.

With a coastal zone program, “we rule over the federal government. This is the only program that does that,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, the Sea Party spokeswoman at the debate.

In response, Fredriksson said, “It does not have the provisions in the law that would allow for a local voice in state and federal decision-making.”

He also questioned the need for any federally recognized coastal zone program, pointing to three cases in the past 30 years in which the federal authorities didn’t bow to state demands.

Federal authorities, “didn’t pay attention” to the state’s seasonal drilling requirements for a 1980s Amoco exploration project in the Beaufort Sea, Fredriksson said.

More recently they refused a ConocoPhillips application for a permit to build a bridge across the Colville River despite its approval under the Alaska Coastal Management Program, and delayed Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling plans until this year.

Kerttula said Amoco eventually agreed with whaling captains’ call for season drilling restrictions and emphasized that the entire North Slope, the Kensington gold mine near Juneau and every other coastal project over the past 30 years were completed under the ACMP.

She said only one percent of project decisions under the program were appealed until it was amended in 2003.

If the ACMP and the interagency project review coordination it provides is not reestablished, “you’re going to see confusion at best. We’re going to stop development at worst,” Kerttula warned.

Similarly, a “Vote No on 2” flyer distributed at the luncheon said its passage would, “create legal uncertainty,” and, “put in place unnecessary barriers to development.”

Kerttula said the initiative contains three “major changes” from the ACMP that expired July 1, 2011.

Those include the elimination of the so-called “DEC carve-out,” which prohibited coastal districts from including any air or water quality protection terms in their enforceable standards, reestablishment of a coastal policy board and relocation of the reformed Division of Ocean and Coastal Policy in the Department of Commerce instead of the Department of Natural Resources.

The new board would include one public member from each of nine coastal regions and the commissioners of DNR, DEC, Commerce and Fish and Game. The public members would be nominated by their respective districts and chosen by the governor, but not subject to confirmation by the legislature.

The board would have authority over ACMP regulations and local district plans but could only comment on specific projects and would have no “veto” power.

“Vote No on 2” calls the initiative, “a big government solution to coastal management,” and said the, “unelected government body,” (the policy board) would be comprised of individuals, “without the necessary expertise to oversee responsible coastal development.”

Fredriksson also complained that the board is flawed because the governor is not named as a member.

Debate moderator Murray Walsh introduced his final question declaring, “Science is best done in a dictatorship where you don’t have to put up with other people’s opinions.”

He asked if the initiative gives coastal districts the power to block legitimate projects.

Kerttula simply said “no,” and emphasized that the ACMP itself is a tool for review coordination and that actual permitting power is and would remain in the relevant state agencies.

By reestablishing coastal policy districts, the initiative would give a say in development proposals to state residents in coastal regions outside of any incorporated community.

Fredriksson said the initiative would allow local interests to, “thwart development or be overly protective.”

Now a semi-retired consultant, Fredriksson said local governments already have significant control over project development through their planning and zoning laws.

“We’re not talking about local governments that are defenseless here,” he said.

06/21/2012 - 6:51pm