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Senate president says no special session planned

House, Senate at odds over coast management

Posted: May 29, 2011 - 9:09pm
Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak   Chris Miller
Chris Miller
Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak

ANCHORAGE — Continued disagreement on how to extend Alaska’s coastal zone management program has halted plans for a second special legislative session, House and Senate leaders said Sunday.

Legislative leaders last week told members to book airplane tickets for Juneau. However, plans for the special session fell apart when both sides failed to budge from previous positions.

Senate leaders met Sunday morning and reaffirmed their commitment to a bill worked out by a conference committee, said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said that measure has been rejected by his members.

“Why would we go back into special session to vote on something that was twice failed by the House on the last day of the last special session?” Chenault said.

Both sides said no special session will be called unless an agreement is close to being in place.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Stevens said. “We need this coastal zone management program. It’s extremely important. But we don’t need to have a weak, poorly written bill.”

The National Coastal Zone Management is a voluntary partnership between the federal government and coastal and Great Lakes states that addresses national coastal issues, including protection, restoration and development. Failure to extend Alaska’s participation beyond July 1 will mean the loss of the state’s most powerful tool to influence federal decision making, according to information put out by the Senate. That will give federal officials greater say about what happens to state resources.

Stevens said he met Sunday morning with Senate leaders and the three Senate members of a conference committee that unanimously approved a compromise with House counterparts. Senators approved that measure 14-4 but it failed by one vote in the House.

The measure included a provision that allows a governor to dismiss a member of a Coastal Management Board for cause only.

“As in any other task force or committee, there should be a reason why someone is being let go,” Stevens said.

Senators want a clear definition of local knowledge versus scientific evidence in coastal management, putting local knowledge on equal footing. A bill that passed the House in April allowed for local knowledge as long as it was not contradicted by scientific knowledge.

“Local folks know tides and weather and that sort of thing,” Stevens said. “It’s really important that that be taken into consideration. Scientific knowledge is important as well. Both have to be respected, but you can’t dismiss one just because there may be a disagreement. You have to look at it very carefully and figure out which one is right.”

Senators also want a six-year sunset clause. Those provisions were not in an earlier version of the coastal zone management bill that the House wants the Senate to adopt.

“That earlier version is just not acceptable,” Stevens said.

Chenault said the House has already compromised, taking a version it passed and incorporating five changes the Senate wanted.

“It is a shame that the program is going to be turned over to the feds. We’ve already relinquished enough powers to them. We wish the Senate would’ve agreed to an actual compromise instead of more of the same.”

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