Alaska lawmaker seeks to save coastal management program

JUNEAU -- A Democratic state senator is urging the governor to act to try to prevent Alaska's coastal management program from lapsing next month.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski said Monday that the program, which lets the state put conditions on certain activities on federal lands and waters, is too important to lose.

Gov. Sean Parnell's office has said repeatedly that Parnell has no plans to call another special session to deal with the issue, meaning lawmakers would have to call themselves back to save the program before it expires next month. That could be a tough sell: A two-thirds vote is needed for the Legislature to call itself back and lawmakers just left a contentious special session during which they failed to reach a compromise on a revamped coastal management program and went home early.

Wielechowski said it would be "extremely tough" for the Legislature to call itself back and said he hoped the governor would step up.

"It's really the governor's call at this point," said Wielechowski, who's from Anchorage.

Parnell's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said the governor already called a special session to deal with the issue; a bill dealing with the program was among 10 bills on the call of the session that ended May 14, "and they didn't address it," she said.

Wielechowski said he was researching whether the governor could take action by an executive order but wasn't sure if that was a possibility.

The main ramifications of the program ending, as detailed by legislative analyst Susan Haymes, include loss of the state's ability to review and influence federal activities that affect Alaska and loss of a coordinated permitting process for projects requiring state and federal authorizations. The analysis, which Wielechowski requested and released Monday, also cited a loss of about $2.5 million a year in federal grant funds as well as state jobs tied to the program.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he planned to speak with Senate President Gary Stevens about whether lawmakers are interested in coming back. He said he's spoken with some representatives who are open to revisiting the issue. But he said he'd want a compromise pretty much ironed out with the Senate before the Legislature went back in, to avoid lengthy negotiations.

Without an agreement, "we could be there another month," he said, adding that he has no interest in going down that road.

Stevens' office said he was traveling Monday and unavailable for immediate comment.