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Empire editorial: There's still time for the Legislature to act on Coastal Management

Posted: April 1, 2012 - 12:05am

In a well-orchestrated effort, the Alaska Sea Party’s quick action secured enough petition signatures to put a Coastal Zone Management Program plan on November’s ballot.

We were happy the measure got on the ballot because we believed this would provide some measure of political cover and spur the Legislature and Gov. Sean Parnell to come together on a plan all three could live with. That seemed to be the Sea Party’s goal as well, given Mayor Bruce Botelho’s statements at the time the initiative petition drive was announced.

“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.

After all, the program on the November ballot resembles the coastal management plan that was on the books before it was transformed during the Murkowski administration. It would expand the role local communities play deciding how federal waters surrounding Alaska are used and developed. This prospect was a source of contention during last session’s debate over Coastal management, and the failure to resolve it is the reason the program wasn’t renewed. Surely, we thought, the possibility of voters putting in place a program Parnell and others didn’t much care for would spur action this session, especially after the Attorney General’s Office said the Legislature would have wide latitude in crafting and passing substantially similar legislation, thus preempting the ballot measure. We’ve all been witness to the unintended consequences of voter referendums and the restrictive mandate where there is little allowance for any form of corrective adjustments.

Silly us. The squabbling that torpedoed the program’s renewal last session has prevented much serious discussion of it this time around. The Associated Press reported grim prospects for the program’s future in this session, citing statements from Botelho and Eric Feige, co-chairman of the House Resources Committee. Feige, a Chickaloon Republican, said his committee would be spending the final two weeks of the session focusing on oil taxes, at least as soon as the Senate sends a bill their way.

This is unfortunate. The Legislature has had two years now to do its job and give Alaska the voice it needs when it comes to control over the waters encompassing our state. Two special sessions couldn’t get it done. The Sea Party’s stick of a plan, unpleasant to many in the legislative and executive branches, couldn’t get it done. It seems it will fall to the voters to do what the Legislature can’t — decide on whether or not control of Alaska’s coast line should be entirely in federal hands.

Dark prospects for legislation have been lightened unexpectedly before, and we’re hoping this is one of those occasions. We ask the Legislature to find a way in the limited time remaining to spare Alaska a divisive, distorted campaign and come together on a plan for the waters surrounding Alaska.

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