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Session enters second day as Coastal Management debate continues

Posted: June 27, 2011 - 9:55pm
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Members of the House of Representatives sit on a hallway bench in the Capitol in Juneau Monday waiting for the beginning of the second Special Session of the year. The legislature called a one-day session to take up a bill on the Alaska Coastal Management Program that will currently sunset at the end of the June. The members are from left: Peggie Wilson, R-Wrangell, Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, Neal Foster, D-Nome, Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, and Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Members of the House of Representatives sit on a hallway bench in the Capitol in Juneau Monday waiting for the beginning of the second Special Session of the year. The legislature called a one-day session to take up a bill on the Alaska Coastal Management Program that will currently sunset at the end of the June. The members are from left: Peggie Wilson, R-Wrangell, Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, Neal Foster, D-Nome, Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, and Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage.

The Senate passed a bill extending the life of the Coastal Management program in a convoluted special session, with the House of Representatives expected to act on it today.

The Senate Monday passed Senate Bill 45, an extension of the existing program with modifications, and then adjourned sine die, ending its role in the special session.

“It’s now in the House’s hands,” said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, a supporter of keeping the program going.

The program oversees the state’s Coastal Management Plan, a method for the state to impose its own standards with the federal regulators on such enterprises as offshore oil drilling. Alaska’s safety standards were stronger than the federal government’s.

Without the plan, and the bureaucracy that went with it, Alaska’s state government will not have as strong a voice on coastal development issues with federal regulators.

The Senate’s maneuver, adjourning without fixing a date for resumption, is reminiscent of the House’s action at the end of budget negotiation earlier this year, as it added additional money to the capital budget and adjourned quickly, forcing the Senate to accept the increases or have no capital budget at all.

Ironically, it was that early adjournment gambit that kept a bill reauthorizing the Coastal Management program from passing earlier in the year.

After adjournment, Stevens denied that the Senate was leaving Juneau with the job only half completed.

“Not at all, we agreed to do it in one day, and that’s what we did,” he said.

Meanwhile Monday, movers arrived at Coastal Management’s Gold Street offices and carted away desks, computers and other tools of the program.

Some of the program’s opponents said it was already too late to keep it going, following the ongoing wind-down and dispersal of most of its staff.

“We kind of drove this aground — everybody’s bailing out,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, one of five senators who voted against the bill.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, in an impassioned floor speech said that departure of some of the program’s “entrenched bureaucrats” might be welcomed in coastal communities, which have to live forever with the development decisions the program makes.

Following a Senate press conference after adjournment, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, described the bill as “a good compromise.”

“Our main thing is to trying to save the program and the jobs in Juneau, and that’s been accomplished with this legislation,” he said.

Gov. Sean Parnell continued to send signals he didn’t support the program, with legislators saying he was making new demands at the last minute.

The House, scheduled to convene in the year’s second special session at 11 a.m., didn’t wind up gaveling in until after 6 p.m.

It sent Senate Bill 45 to the House Finance Committee, where it will be heard today.

The House first rejected a motion by Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, to itself adjourn, which would have killed Coastal Management, by a vote of 33-3.

Only Reps. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, and Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake joined Johansen in his motion.

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

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