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Chenault: 'Voters have spoken' on coastal management

Comments echo Parnell on controversial issue

Posted: February 1, 2013 - 5:03pm  |  Updated: February 3, 2013 - 12:11am
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Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, responds to a reporter's question during a House Majority press conference at the Capitol on Friday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, responds to a reporter's question during a House Majority press conference at the Capitol on Friday.

Although some legislators remain interested in authorizing a state coastal zone management program, a year and a half after the former program expired amidst disagreement between the House and Senate and five months after voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative to establish a new program, Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, suggested Friday that he feels voters have already weighed in.

During a Friday morning press conference, Chenault made an oblique reference to the defeat of Ballot Measure 2, the initiative that would have resurrected the coastal management program, in last August’s primary election.

“It’s interesting about voter initiatives, what passes and what fails, and what people think are important enough, and whose voice should we as legislators listen to,” Chenault said.

On Primary Day last August, when Measure 2 failed, a former Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner who became a leading figure in the successful “Vote No on 2” effort attributed the initiative’s defeat to voters reading it and deciding “that this wasn’t really restoring the coastal management program.” The ex-commissioner, Kurt Fredriksson, went on to say that he hoped to see “good features” of the former program brought up in the Legislature when it came back into session.

Fredriksson expanded on that Friday afternoon.

Referring to then-Mayor Bruce Botelho and House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau — two leaders in the pro-Measure 2 movement who are also, like Fredriksson, Juneau residents — Fredriksson said he does have common ground with those who were on the other side of the debate last summer.

“There were kind of two points of real agreement, I felt, between myself and Mayor Botelho, Beth Kerttula,” said Fredriksson. “I would characterize that as local consultation on resource development projects and environmental protection … before permits are issued. The other was permit coordination … for projects big and small.”

In Fredriksson’s eyes, those elements — which would both allow more local control and streamline the permitting process for property-owners and would-be developers, he said — transcend coastal Alaska.

“To me, these are statewide issues,” Fredriksson said. “I think there were benefits that the old coastal program brought to life that have a broader application. I’d make it across the state.”

Kerttula has also spoken in favor of a coordinated permitting system in Alaska, as recently as in a House minority caucus press conference on Tuesday.

But while Fredriksson and Kerttula share some legislative priorities, lawmakers on both sides of the issue have struggled in the past to bridge the remaining gap.

Chenault observed that a 2011 attempt to push back the coastal management program’s termination, as well as an effort last year to avert the voter initiative by legislatively reauthorizing the program, did not succeed. He said coastal management supporters “wouldn’t budge from their position.”

But even as he signaled his own disinterest, Chenault did not close the door completely on another debate over coastal management this spring.

“I don’t say that we shouldn’t have somebody look at it again as far as the state level, but you know, the voters have spoken,” Chenault said. “So should the Legislature take it up? And there are a number of legislators, especially some from coastal communities, that feel that we should. And those are conversations we’ll have. And you know, if somebody wants to introduce a bill, that’s their prerogative to introduce that bill and try to shepherd it through the legislative process.”

Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, revealed Friday that his office has prepared draft legislation that could be introduced if backers feel there is sufficient support for restarting the coastal management program. He declined to identify other members who are involved or say how many are on board.

“There’s legislation drafted,” said Austerman, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee. “I’m waiting for somebody else to introduce it.”

Austerman represents a largely coastal district, including Kodiak Island. He said his constituents want a coastal management program.

“All of the coastal communities that I’ve talked to feel that it’s something they need to have done,” Austerman said.

Austerman was present at the House majority caucus’ Friday press conference as well.

“In all the hearings I did listen to on the initiative, people … representing corporations that were involved in permitting processes all said the same thing: ‘The initiative is way too far. We do need some type of a permitting program,’” said Austerman, following up on Chenault’s comments. “And that is probably why you heard conversations going on in the halls right now, and in some offices, in reference to whether there is a need for the program versus a regional program.”

Kerttula is among the legislators who has expressed hope that the Legislature will take up coastal management again this year. But when asked whether she will introduce a bill at a Tuesday press conference, Kerttula was noncommittal.

“I’ve heard about it, and I’ve been waiting to see, you know, what coalesces,” said Kerttula.

Kerttula added, “I’ve heard from other legislators that they’ve been working on it. So that’s my hope is that we’ll be able to see something this session.”

Fredriksson said he is keeping an eye out for a bill to be introduced. He mentioned Austerman as one of the legislators who might put one out.

“My expectation is a bill will come forward,” Fredriksson said. If and when it does, he added, he will be looking for coordinated permitting and local consultation to be part of it.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, who put forth the unsuccessful bill in 2011 that would have extended the life of the coastal management program before coming out in public opposition to the extension during a special session that summer, does not appear inclined to return to the coastal management issue.

“Alaskans have spoken on coastal management,” said Parnell’s press secretary, Sharon Leighow, in an email Friday morning, echoing earlier comments by the governor. “There has been no discussion on reinstating the program.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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