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Ballot Measure 2 Would Give Alaskans More Clout Over Coastal Development

Do you want to limit the authority of the federal government over coastal development projects in Alaska? Do you want to increase the influence of the state and its coastal residents over those projects?

Then you couldn't do better than to cast a 'Yes" vote for Proposition 2 on Alaska's Aug. 28 primary election ballot. If approved, this proposition will bring the Alaska Coastal Management Program back to life.

Alaskans benefited from such a program for 34 years. Unfortunately, it was allowed to lapse last year and we've been without it since, despite legislative efforts to resuscitate it.

Now we're the only coastal state in the country without such a program, despite the fact that we have the longest coastline.

The program originated at the federal level to give states and their coastal residents a seat at the table in decision-making on coastal development projects. Its absence means Alaska has voluntarily ceded much of its authority in this area to the federal government, an ironic outcome for a state priding itself on independence and self-determination.

As state Rep. Beth Kerttula said of the coastal management program, "We rule over the federal government. This is the only program that does that, this is an incredible power."

The Aug. 28 ballot measure would set up a coastal policy board of four department commissioners from state government and nine coastal Alaskans appointed by the governor. The board would ensure coastal voices were heard in development decisions, oversee the development of regulations to implement the program, and coordinate the efforts of various agencies involved in the permitting process.

Opponents of Proposition 2 argue that restoring the coastal management program could impede development.

History says otherwise. Under Alaska's old coastal management program, massive projects such as the North Slope oil fields, the Red Dog lead-zinc mine near Kotzebue, and the Kensington gold mine near Juneau all came to fruition and contribute to our economy today.

The program was a boon to all parties in debates over development projects. It expedited the permitting process and allowed coastal Alaskans a way to resolve their concerns without resort to expensive and time-consuming litigation.

For example, our organization found the old coastal management program highly useful to us and our member communities in the work of analyzing and commenting on the comprehensive plans required of the oil industry on how it will prevent and clean up oil spills in Prince William Sound. Never in its history did the old program become a vehicle for efforts to shut down the oil terminal in Valdez or the tankers that use it. The purpose of the program is to create consensus on development projects, not block them.

At a recent Juneau hearing on the ballot measure, the owner of a concrete casting company described the old program as an effective tool for development and said that "for a small developer, it's almost imperative."

The state's own website for the old program still touts its benefits, such as balancing the need for development in coastal areas with the need to protect uses and resources there; serving as a tool for liaison with federal agencies; and providing developers with a single point of contact for state’s review of their permit applications.

Opponents also complain the new measure is imperfectly written and will require new regulations. That may be true, but it's not unusual, nor is it a serious problem. Many new laws are implemented through regulations, and many also require a legislative tune-up after a few years in operation.

For more than three decades, our coastal management program helped Alaskans balance state and coastal interests against those of the federal government in reviewing and approving development projects. As a citizens' advisory council, we've learned that citizen involvement in decision-making benefits everyone—the state as a whole, coastal communities, and industry alike.

On Aug. 28, Alaskans should vote yes on Proposition 2 and reclaim their once powerful voice in deciding how their coastal interests should best be managed.

Mark Swanson is executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, www.pwsrcac.org. The council works to reduce the chances of oil spills like the Exxon Valdez and ensure a better cleanup if one should occur.


 

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