Three coastal community leaders want to revive Alaska's coastal management program, and if the Legislature won't act, they plan to take the issue to the people.
The opt-in program allowing states to put conditions on certain activities on federal lands and waters ended June 30 after several failed attempts by lawmakers to save it. The end came as coastal communities sought a greater say in development decisions that could have an impact on their way of life, particularly with the future potential of offshore oil and gas development.
A ballot initiative application was filed with the Division of Elections Friday -- borne of disappointment in the Legislature's handing of the coastal zone issue and a desire to get a vital program back in place, said Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Mako Haggerty, one of the three initiative sponsors, along with Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby.
If the application is certified as having sufficient signatures, the initiative committee will need to gather 25,875 signatures. Botelho told reporters Monday that the goal is to have 27,000 signatures collected before Jan. 17, the start of the legislative session.
Botelho said that if a coastal management program "substantially similar" to that outlined by the proposed initiative isn't adopted, the goal will be to get the issue on the November ballot -- and to let the voters have their say.
Without this effort, "it would basically be holding out hope that on its own initiative the Legislature and our governor would deal with this matter in the 2012 session," Botelho said, adding that he doesn't have much confidence that the issue would get "the high priority I think it should have" without the initiative effort.
Earlier this year, Joe Balash, a deputy commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said that without a coastal management program, Alaska would lose its ability to shape activities and development in federal waters and land. However, he said it's not the only tool the state has to ensure development occurs responsibly in Alaska.
Gov. Sean Parnell's office declined comment Monday on the proposed ballot initiative. Botelho said the proposal constitutes a new plan, not an effort to re-establish what was.
The 15-page proposal calls for a coastal policy board that provides local input in evaluating the effectiveness of district coastal management plans.
It also says the board must approve initial or amended district plans if, among other things, the plans address a coastal use or resource of concern as demonstrated by local knowledge or supported by scientific evidence. Questions about what role local knowledge and scientific evidence should play were major sticking points during the legislative debate.
Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, said he couldn't speak to the specifics of the proposal but agrees with putting the issue to the people if there isn't support within the Legislature to act. Olson, who was among those who considered the old program broken and sought to revamp it, giving local communities a greater say, said coastal management remains a major issue and isn't going away. House Democratic Leader Beth Kerttula, a former coastal zone lawyer for the state, called the initiative push a great idea, one that "might wake a few people up, to realize how important this is," and get the Legislature to focus on finding a solution. She said the proposal outlined is structured strongly.
Botelho said the ballot group has not yet raised money or filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission but plans to in the next few weeks.