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State says new coastal program will be costlier than before

Initiative supporters question costs, say federal support likely

Posted: December 20, 2011 - 1:04am

The Parnell administration is saying that a resurrected Coastal Management program would cost the state many millions more than the program the Legislature let die last June.

The federal government largely funded the previous program as it operated in Alaska for decades, but state officials say that would not happen with the new program.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, questioned the numbers but said it was still a good deal for the state.

“The program is a bargain at just about any price because of the power it brings the state,” she said.

Kerttula is a supporter of an initiative to restore the program.

The Alaska Sea Party is sponsoring the initiative, and an official cost estimate is part of the information that will be presented to the public as signatures are being gathered.

The program previously cost about $4.7 million a year to operate, but more than half that amount was paid for by the federal government.

Now, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is estimating Coastal Management will cost the state $5.4 million to operate per year and will have to be funded by the state.

In the program’s first year, that will be paid for entirely by the state, though in later years the federal government is projected to pick up as much as $2 million, or less than 40 percent of the cost.

The estimate was released late Friday by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who oversees state elections, and was compiled by the Office of Management and Budget, part of the Governor’s Office.

Though until recently the federal government had picked up more than half the cost of Coastal Management, Treadwell’s estimate said that will no longer be the case, at least initially.

“Until the new coastal management program is federally approved and becomes eligible to receive federal funds, the state would expect to initially absorb the entire costs,” according to Treadwell’s estimate.

Kerttula said sponsors expected that.

“Initially that’ll be true because of our failure to continue the program and having to go through startup costs,” she said.

She said she intended to look for other federal money to support the program’s startup, but didn’t know whether it would be available.

The Treadwell estimate did not explain why it said a maximum of $2 million could be expected from the federal government, when it had told the Legislature earlier this year that it had expected to receive at least $2.67 million and as much as $4 million for the program.

The state’s estimate says the program will cost $27 million to run over the next five years. Though the federal government may eventually pick up part of the cost, the state’s cost during that period will be at least $22.3 million, according to the estimate.

The new program as called for by the initiative also establishes a Coastal Policy Board to oversee its operation. Treadwell said it would cost $700,000 a year to operate that board, including travel, meeting and staff costs.

Kerttula said the cost to operate the Coastal Policy Board “sounds a little high.”

The largest part of the program’s cost is for 34 staff, ranging from office assistants to a division director, to run the program.

The bulk of the employees would be natural resource specialists, the estimate said, but one new person will be needed to support the Coastal Policy Board.

Treadwell’s cost estimate also covers the cost of the election itself, at a date not yet determined. That would cost $66,821 for legal review and certification costs, and another $65,521 for staff to run the election itself. Printing of election booklets is now underway at a cost of $1,300.

The mayors of the Juneau and Kodiak Island boroughs, and other coastal representatives head the Alaska Sea Party. It has said it hopes to collect the necessary 27,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot by Jan. 17, 2012, before the Legislature convenes.

If it does so, the Legislature will be able to head off an election by adopting a substantially similar program on its own.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and other Sea Party representatives did not return phone calls Monday, but Kerttula said they hope to get petition booklets from the state within a few days.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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