Coastal management initiative fails by a heavy margin

Mark Thiessen/AP

The ballot proposition that would have reestablished a state coastal management program in Alaska was heavily defeated by voters in the state’s primary election held Aug. 28.

The measure was being closely watched by natural resource industries. Had Ballot Measure 2 passed, the new coastal management program would have added new layers of complexity to permitting for projects in the coastal zone, which has been broadly defined.

As of Aug. 29, data from the state Division of Elections showed that 64,210, or 61.8 percent, had voted against the measure and 39,624, or 38.1 percent, had voted for it. The count showed a total vote of 103,384.

The final tally may change with absentee and challenged ballots counted, but not enough to change the result. It was a low turnout election, with about 25 percent of registered Alaska voters showing up at the polls.

The measure was controversial because the program being proposed would have given coastal communities, who are opposing Outer Continental Shelf, exploration more influence over federal and state permits for projects in the coastal zone.

“We’re very pleased with the vote, and we’re all sorry this even had to come up,” said Judy Brady, a former state natural resources commissioner who co-chaired the “Vote No on 2” campaign against the ballot initiative.

“All of the resource development groups had supported an extension of the coastal management program through a bill the Legislature had reached a compromise on. We were very disappointed when all of the issues that destroyed the compromise were included in initiative,” Brady said.

“People who believe in coastal management were told that the initiative was the same as the former program but they were given misleading information. This was in no way a fight against coastal management but was a reaction to very poorly crafted initiative that would have turned management of state resources over to a coastal policy board not elected nor approved by the Legislature.”

Supporters of Ballot Measure 2, primarily municipal leaders in small coastal communities, argued that having a coastal management program would give local residents a say in federal and state decisions in coastal regions.

Bruce Botelho, the chairman of the Alaska Sea Party, the group pushing for the initiative, said that while he was disappointed with the outcome of the race, he took heart in being able to raise awareness among Alaskans about coastal management and hearing from the opposition that they didn’t oppose coastal management generally, just this specific approach.

“I look forward to being able to work with them in fashioning a viable coastal management program,” Botelho said. “Hopefully the Legislature, when it convenes in January, will see this as one of its highest priorities.”

Opponents to the measure heavily outspent proponents, raising about $1.5 million to defeat the measure compared with about $200,000 raised by supporters of the ballot proposition, according to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Alaska is now the only coastal U.S. state that does not have a coastal management program. A previous coastal management program expired in 2011 when the state Legislature did not extend it. The program required a periodic review by state lawmakers.

Alaska adopted its coastal management program in the 1970s when the federal government put a national coastal zone management program in place and invited coastal states to enact state-level coastal management regimes to link with the federal program.

Alaska’s program was unusual in that it was decentralized, allowing regional “coastal districts” to adopt their own plans. Other states took a more centralized approach, with the state government managing coastal management.

In 2006 former Gov. Frank Murkowski changed the program to bring it more under state control, arguing that the previous program effectively gave coastal communities a form of veto over state and federal permits for projects of statewide significance.

Minerals explorers also became concerned because the reestablished program would have defined “coastal region” as including areas far inland in Alaska where developments such as mines could affect the watersheds of major streams flowing to the coasts.

When the Legislature took up the possible renewal of the program in 2010, however, rural legislators pushed to have the earlier version of the program reestablished. This led to an extended deadlock on the issue through 2011, when a compromise bill agreed to between the governor and the House died after rural state senators opposed it.

After the bill failed and the program ended, Botelho, Juneau’s mayor, organized the Alaska Sea Party to draft an initiative and gather signatures to put it on the ballot.

08/30/2012 - 9:00pm