Pros and cons of the Coastal Zone Management ballot initiative were offered Wednesday at the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon
The initiative will be on the state’s Aug. 28 primary ballot. Rep. Beth Kerttula and former state Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Kurt Fredriksson have been traveling to various communities to talk about the issue, with Kerttula in favor and Fredriksson against it.
The two took turns answering questions Wednesday. Kerttula said that after the Legislature voted narrowly to not renew the state’s program, Alaska became the only coastal state to not participate in the federal program. She said that Coastal Zone Management allows states to work with the federal government when setting coastal development policies.
Kerttula is a former coastal management attorney. She said the previous program, in place since 1979, had good and bad points, but it was important for the state to participate.Kerttula said that passing the ballot measure would mean a stronger voice with the federal government, more involvement for local communities and a streamlined permit process. She said that obtaining permits is challenging for even small development projects, and coastal management would coordinate that process.
“It’s not another layer of bureaucracy,” she said. “In fact, it’s one of the strongest ways people, individuals, permitters, developers, it’s one of their strong tools to get things done.”
Fredriksson said that if the proposal did all of those things, he would support the initiative. He said the ballot measure does not specify local involvement or a coordinated permit process.
He said the previous program had those elements.
“But there is nothing within the ballot measure that says that a state agency is required to consult with a coastal community when making a permit decision,” he said. “In the previous statutes, it did.”
Fredriksson said the measure also limits the governor’s involvement, and moves administration of the program from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. He said the commerce department isn’t a good fit because it has no resource powers.
Kerttula said that no matter what agency the program is affiliated with, there will be coordinators who know how to handle permitting. She said it’s good that commerce isn’t a resource department, because that gives it a more neutral background when dealing with resource agencies.
Fredriksson said the program will make permitting more complicated, because it will add layers of review. He said he’s particularly concerned that it will provide another litigation tool for groups that want to stall development projects.
Fredriksson said there are many holes in the initiative that the Legislature wouldn’t be able to fill for at least two years.
“The previous coastal management law said you have to make a decision in 90 days,” he said. “There’s no time frame in the current law. So what the ballot measure will do will say that board, that coastal policy board of nonelected people will develop regulations that spell all that out. Well I’m not satisfied with that. We shouldn’t have people that aren’t accountable to citizens of a community dictating through regulation things like permit time frame.”
Kerttula said it’s common practice for statutes to be less specific, and provide a framework for agencies to build regulations. She said the ballot initiative was written without specifics on purpose, allowing communities to participate in the process.
She said including specifics would have led to a complicated document, which might have included errors that couldn’t be fixed for at least two years.
“I have faith in Alaskans, in communities, to come together, and the developers, to put good information out so good decisions can be made,” she said.
Kerttula added that each region in the state would nominate three people to be on the board, and the governor would choose from those nominees. She said the governor also would pick four commissioners for the board.
In closing, both speakers urged people to read the ballot initiative, which is on the Lt. Governor’s website, http://ltgov.alaska.gov/
Fredriksson: “I have read it many times and I keep finding more things to it. I really don’t understand why some of this stuff got left out, but it got left out. It’s bad law.”
Kerttula: “If we don’t do this, we are going to remain the only state in the union without a coastal zone program that could have one. And that’s just a real shame for Alaskans. If you want to be involved, if you want to see a coastal program for Alaska, I say vote for this and work with the regulations process, give your comments and be part of the solution.”
Wednesday’s presentation precedes a local hearing on the issue. State law requires hearings for citizen ballot initiatives. A public hearing in Ketchikan is scheduled for noon on Wednesday, July 25, in Borough Assembly chambers at the White Cliff building.