A new compromise coastal zone management bill was finally made public in the Alaska Senate this week as the final pieces needed to conclude the Legislature’s special session began to fall into place.
Most of the changes made in the version released by the Senate Finance Committee give local communities some more authority than did the House version.
Among the changes: Members of the newly created Coastal Policy Board could only be removed by the governor “for cause,” such as misconduct, incompetence or lack of contribution to the board.
“I think it’s a good compromise,” finance committee member Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said of the changes.
“It allows for more reasoned development and it allows for community input,” he said.
Gov. Sean Parnell has been unwilling to give local communities authority to block projects, which he said might be used to stop developments of statewide interest.
But the law authorizing the coastal management program, along with 34 jobs, ends this year. Unless it is renewed, the state’s ability to voice its concerns to the federal government could be threatened, along with the jobs.
That led Parnell to agree to changes in the program, but even with the changes the state retains final say.
The current coastal management program includes what’s known as the “DEC carve-out,” which takes water quality, regulated by the Department of Environmental Conservation, out of the issues communities can address in their coastal plans.
“Whatever they did was automatically OK with the coastal zone management program,” said David Grey, an aide to Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, told the committee.
The Senate version keeps the DEC carve-out, but requires a report to be submitted to the governor and Legislature in four years about the issue, along with recommendations.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, formerly a coastal management lawyer at the Alaska Department of Law, called the Senate changes small improvements to the bill the House had earlier passed and for which she had voted.
She questioned why a program to manage coastal development wouldn’t look at water quality, but said it was good that there would be another look at the bill coming later.
An additional change to the bill removes the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources as a member of the Coastal Policy Board. Instead, his deputy commissioner will serve on the board.
Actions of the board can be appealed to the department’s commissioner, Grey said, and its best to have that be a different person.
After the Senate passes its version of the bill the House of Representatives will then be asked to agree to the changes. Kerttula said that was likely to happen, but if it didn’t a conference committee would likely be able to work out any differences.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.