Vote Yes on 2 to give Alaskans voice in coastal management

In a story as old as statehood, Alaska is once again challenged to defend its rights for responsible resource development against distant bureaucracies and well-funded outside corporate interests. In his 1955 keynote address to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, when discussing Alaska’s potential for resource development, delegate Bob Bartlett said, “The financial welfare of the future state and the well being of its present and unborn citizens depend upon the wise administration and oversight of these developmental activities.”

Nowhere is that cautionary statement better addressed than through coastal management.

Coastal management comes from a unique federal law that recognizes states’ rights to a higher degree than most federal laws – it gives states and local governments the power to chart their own courses for managing development and balancing competing interests along their coastlines. Gov. (Jay) Hammond took advantage of that power, and in 1977 we got our first coastal management program. We had a program for 34 years. In that time, North Slope oil fields, the Red Dog Mine, the Kensington Mine, and thousands of other projects, were all responsibly developed through coastal management.

We lost our coastal program in 2011, when the legislature and governor failed to agree on conditions for its extension. So now, unlike all the other coastal states, including Texas, we lack the power to choose our own destiny on how to best manage our coasts.

The coastal management initiative, Ballot Measure 2, provides the structure for getting a coastal management program back in Alaska. Its supporters include almost 40 current and former mayors, legislators from both sides of the aisle, and long-time Alaska luminaries like Vic Fisher and Arliss Sturgulewski.

The details of the program – statewide coastal standards, local district coastal plan criteria, and coordinated project reviews – will be established in regulations developed through a public process that gives all Alaskans a chance to participate. In effect, the initiative sets the stage for a statewide conversation on coastal management. Because this is a statewide conversation, the initiative creates a statewide board to oversee development of the coastal program, a board comprised of Alaskans who know our state, who live and work in our communities – not some federal agency or outside interest group that doesn’t share Alaska’s values.

Some critics complain about not knowing what the regulations will look like until after passage of the initiative. Working with all interests, the Alaska Coastal Policy Board will help guide, but not dictate, the shape of coastal management to ensure the regulations meet the initiative’s requirements and represent all of Alaska’s interests and values.

Without coastal management, it will be legislators, lobbyists, state bureaucrats and distant federal agencies making future laws and coastal development decisions – all without effective state and local community input.

Coastal management is pro-Alaska. With coastal management, Alaskans make the choices about how we want to manage coastal development. Once our coastal management program is in place, the federal government has to listen to and work with the state to resolve Alaska’s concerns before approving federal permits in the coastal area.

Coastal management is pro-development. A key element of coastal management is coordination. The coordinated coastal project review brings everything into one place so an applicant has a single entity to contact to figure out what permits they need and what information to provide, and to answer their questions. With a coordinated review process, potential conflicts can be resolved before more serious problems occur so development can proceed with fewer hurdles.

The initiative requires that regulations establish review timelines and what projects are subject to coastal review and which would be exempt. Projects won’t be subject to coastal review until after the regulations are adopted and the federal government approves the program.

Coastal management is pro-community. With a coastal program, communities decide which coastal resources and uses are of local significance. In local coastal management plans, communities decide the best way to balance potentially competing interests.

Under the initiative, local plans must follow criteria specified both in the initiative and that will be established in regulation. In this way, communities will have an effective voice, but not a veto power, in state and federal decisions that impact their coastal area.

Coastal management is about figuring out what is important and how to make things work. It’s about getting to yes, where everyone gets a share of the yes and businesses can thrive.

We lost our coastal management program. But now we have this opportunity to develop a new one with 34 years of history to grow from – 34 years of successes and 34 years of lessons learned. This is an opportunity to take what was a good program and make it better.

08/09/2012 - 5:31pm