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Vol. 14, No. 9 Week of March 01, 2009
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

ACMP at play in House

Committee substitute expected to move March 3; Senate bill in second committee

Kristen Nelson

Petroleum News

Coastal communities are battling the Department of Natural Resources in Juneau over the role local communities should play in the Alaska Coastal Management Program.

Industry is siding with DNR, arguing against changes proposed to the program as it was reconfigured in 2003.

In 2003 the Murkowski administration enacted changes in the program which eliminated the coastal policy council and restricted the range of enforceable policies local coastal districts could enact.

The coastal communities have not been happy with the changes. Legislation was introduced last year to make changes and DNR’s Division of Coastal and Ocean Management has been working with ACMP participants on possible changes.

The division’s director, Randy Bates, told the House Finance Committee’s Natural Resources subcommittee Feb. 13 that ACMP is a voluntary program for the state — and for local coastal districts and communities. The advantage of state participation is that it gives the state the ability to apply its laws to federal activities, offshore and onshore. The advantage of local participation is that it gives communities the ability to address local issues through enforceable policies — how extensive local enforceable policies should be is the subject of current legislation, Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 74. Bates said the main issue in the ACMP bills the Legislature is considering is the ability, role and responsibilities of coastal districts and communities to write enforceable standards. He said the bills, which DNR opposes, would expand what enforceable standards coastal districts and communities can write.

The 9th Circuit issue

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said he was concerned the Legislature was funding coastal districts to write laws. He said he thought the constitution assigned that duty to the Legislature and asked about the possibility of simply doing away with ACMP.

Bates said that is always a possibility and there have been bills in the past to do away with ACMP. If the state opted out it would lose some $2.6 million in federal funds the program brings in, matching some $1.5 million in general fund monies.

And the state would lose the ability to apply its laws to federal projects onshore and offshore the state.

Bates also said there has been speculation that if the North Slope Borough had been able to address its issues through the coastal program that might have prevented the litigation that has delayed Shell’s offshore drilling program.

That was a point of view pressed by Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, at a Feb. 24 House Community and Regional Affairs hearing on HB 74.

He asked if the purpose of the bill wasn’t “that the local people, the people closest to the resources, closest to the affected areas, feel that their position or their voice isn’t being heard when it comes to development in these areas?”

Harris said of the litigation over the Shell drilling program: “Local people felt like they were not given due consideration for their issue — an issue I think that probably would have been addressed” under a program with more local control, such as that proposed in HB 74.

“If you don’t have a local remedy done by local people are we not just setting ourselves up for a continuous trek down to San Francisco and maybe then to Washington, D.C., to have this stuff litigated and litigated when the reality is, perhaps, if we make an effort, if we could have the local folks that are really affected by it getting together saying we can work this out?” Harris asked.

The local angle

Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, the bill’s sponsor, told House Community and Regional Affairs that the people in coastal districts, including the people in his district, have tried to make the system work since it was changed in 2003.

They haven’t been successful, he said, and that is the reason for the bill — and for a bill that was introduced last year.

Teri Camery, a planner with the City and Borough of Juneau, said Juneau “has been working to regain their position and standing within the coastal management program since that role was so drastically reduced in 2003.”

The state went through a substantial reevaluation effort through the fall, but that didn’t result in any legislation, she said. In the absence of legislation from the state, she said she thinks HB 74 does a lot to address the concerns of districts.

David Case, borough attorney for the Northwest Arctic Borough, said he worked with the old coastal management program prior to 2003. That program “worked well for the borough. In fact we always viewed it as a means of assuring ... development, but assuring that the borough would have a voice in the development at ... the local level.”

Case said the issue for him was “whether development and decisions about development will be made in a bureaucratically centralized manner within the Department of Natural Resources or will that decision making be decentralized throughout the vast area of Alaska and take into true account the diversity that exists in the geographic, many geographic regions, of Alaska, one of which is the Northwest Arctic Borough.”

DNR’s view

Bates told the committee the department is evaluating what could be done.

“We are still working through what could and should be done.” He said the department is not prepared to propose legislative changes in the program.

The department does not believe it has consensus among all the program participants — agencies and industry as well as the coastal communities — and also doesn’t believe statutory changes are necessary.

Bates said the fundamental question is “local input which is the way the coastal program has always been structured vs. local control which is what this bill proposes.”

The department opposes that concept, he said.

“We believe that the coastal program as it’s currently statutorily structured affords input and relevant input from the coastal districts but it is a state program and therefore the state should remain in control of the decision making, taking into account input from the coastal districts.”

When the coastal program was established in the late 1970s it was “a state coastal program with a local implementation technique which meant the coastal districts were a partner in the program and they had enforceable policies” they applied.

“They never had veto authority,” Bates said, “but the state always offered due deference.”

Harris replied that the world was changing — local communities want “a lot more input” in decisions that affect them. He said he wished the administration would understand local concerns.

“They’re not illegitimate concerns,” he said. “They’re concerns about their livelihood; they’re concerns about the historical way they’ve lived for centuries.”

He said he thought the administration “is turning a blind eye to that and saying we don’t think there’s a problem.”

The House version of the Alaska Coastal Management Program rewrite, HB 74, is in House Community and Regional Affairs, with a committee substitute incorporating amendments voted on Feb. 24 expected to be passed out of the committee March 3. It has referrals to House Resources and House Finance.

The Senate version passed Senate Community and Regional Affairs the first week of February and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in Senate Resources; it also has a referral to Senate Finance.

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