Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and other local leaders are hoping to use the initiative process to once again give local communities a say in coastal development, after Gov. Sean Parnell and the Alaska Legislature allowed the Alaska Coastal Management Program to die earlier this year.
Botelho joined with Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Mako Haggerty Friday to file an initiative petition application with state elections officials, seeking to hold a public vote in November 2012 on the creation of a new coastal management program.
“We believe that Alaskans need a voice in coastal resource management,” Botelho said at a Monday press conference hosted by the Alaska Municipal League.
Under federal law, states with coastal management programs are given a formal role in what happens in federal waters, but some development interests have opposed giving local communities a formal role in the process.
Gov. Sean Parnell warned that he didn’t want local communities given a “veto” over energy or other developments of statewide importance.
Alaska lost its say in the development of federal offshore waters on June earlier this year, when legislators failed to renew coastal management by June 30, despite working on a renewal compromise during the regular legislative session and then two contentious special sessions.
“It was disheartening to us that the Legislature and the governor were unable to reach agreement on a viable program extension, the consequence of that failure was the termination of a program that has operated successfully in our state for more than two decades,” Botelho said Monday.
Parnell said he wanted to retain most of that authority with the state, instead of local cities and boroughs that might use it to block needed projects.
Parnell, through spokeswoman Sharon Leighow, declined comment Monday on the possible initiative.
Botelho said he still hoped for support from Parnell, however.
“I hope the governor will see this as an opportunity to work closely with the Legislature to create a robust program,” he said.
The initiative is ostensibly aimed at a public vote late next year, but may really be intended to prompt the Legislature to act and create its own coastal management program that would be less restrictive.
The Legislature can prevent an initiative from going to the voters if it adopts a substantially similar program on its own and then the governor signs it into law.
“Our initiative is intended to encourage our state leadership to redouble their efforts to create a credible coastal management program during the 2012 legislative session,” he said.
“If they are unable to do that Alaskans will have an opportunity to express their support for Alaska’s coastal program in November 2012.
Prodding the Legislature to act will be the nature of the coastal management program Botelho and the other sponsors are proposing: a return to what the program was before former Gov. Frank Murkowski weakened it.
Changes made during the Murkowski administration took away much local community authority.
That included establishing the “DEC carve-out” under which responsibility for water quality was kept with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, rather than with individual communities.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, who fought for coastal management renewal in the Legislature, supports Botelho’s efforts to give communities a say.
“We traditionally had a strong program, and then Murkowski did the carve-out, giving us a coastal program that couldn’t deal with water quality,” she said.
Kerttula predicted a vote would show strong support for resurrecting coastal management.
“I think Alaskans will be very happy to see a coastal program that deals with coastal issues,” she said.
Haggerty said the Kenai Peninsula had quite a few projects under the authority of coastal management.
“We would like to maintain a little bit of control over what happens to those projects as they go forward,” he said.
Following submission of the petition, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who oversees elections, has 60 days to review and approve the initiative petition. Sponsors then have to collect 27,000 signatures from Alaskans in at least 30 of the state’s 40 legislative districts.
Botelho said he expected that could happen before the start of the legislative session on Jan. 17.
Under the Alaska Constitution, the initiative process cannot be used to appropriate money, but the initiative doesn’t appropriate money, Botelho said.
“It creates a program, but it does not in and of itself appropriate money, that will be up to the Legislature,” he said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.