Gov. Sean Parnell doesn't intend to introduce coastal zone bill; plans to let initiative process play out

Gov. Sean Parnell said in an interview Wednesday he doesn't intend to introduce a coastal management bill during the upcoming legislative session.

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan to introduce legislation establishing a coastal management program during the upcoming session.

Three coastal community leaders are seeking to revive the program and take the issue to the people, in the form of a ballot initiative, if the Legislature doesn’t act. An initiative application has been filed, and if it’s certified, proponents must gather 25,875 signatures.

One of the leaders, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, has said the goal is to have 27,000 signatures collected before the start of the legislative session, Jan. 17.

Parnell said it’s premature to say whether the state needs a new program. “But I can tell you, the state has a robust permitting system that communities have input into multiple times for every project, and we’re making the current system work for communities and individuals,” he said. “So that’s why I’ve chosen not to file legislation and to let the initiative (process) and the voice of the people either way take its course.”

Parnell declined to speak to the specifics of the initiative, noting that he can’t use his office to advocate for or against an initiative.

An opt-in coastal management program, allowing states to put conditions on certain activities on federal lands and waters, ended June 30 after several failed attempts by lawmakers to save it. The end came as coastal communities sought a greater say in development decisions that could impact their way of life, particularly with the future potential of offshore oil and gas development.

The proposed initiative calls for a coastal policy board that provides local input in evaluating the effectiveness of district coastal management plans.

It also says the board must approve district plans if, among other things, they address a coastal use or resource of concern as demonstrated by local knowledge or supported by scientific evidence. Questions about what role local knowledge and scientific evidence should play were major sticking points during the legislative debate.

The Alaska Federation of Natives last week endorsed the proposal.

Botelho told reporters earlier this month that if a coastal management program “substantially similar” to that outlined by the proposed initiative isn’t adopted, the goal would be to get the issue on the November ballot and to let the voters decide.

It’s not clear whether there will be a push among lawmakers to revive the issue after how heated things got during the regular legislative session and two special sessions — and where things ended.

Staff to Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, said he’s considering all options, including seeing how the initiative effort works. He is expected to make a decision on whether to file legislation as the session nears.

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