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Senate committee advances amended permitting bill

Posted: April 9, 2013 - 12:05am

JUNEAU — A state senator on Monday questioned the judgment of a Senate Finance Committee co-chair in advancing an amended version of a state permitting bill.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, suggested co-chair Kevin Meyer’s judgment may be “somewhat clouded” by end-of-session pressure to move bills. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Sunday.

HB77 has generated at-times intense discussion in the committee, particularly surrounding a provision that would remove the ability of individuals or groups to apply for water reservations to maintain or protect certain water levels for such things as fish habitat, recreation and water quality.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, has said he believes that’s a constitutional right but Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan has said state attorneys are confident in the provision’s constitutionality.

The bill, from Gov. Sean Parnell, is aimed at improving the permitting process and deals with things such as land exchanges and permitting procedures. Critics say it could hurt the public’s ability to participate in permitting decisions.

The latest version of the bill, unveiled Monday, would allow for a feasibility study for a hydroelectric project at Chikuminuk Lake within a southwest Alaska state park. It includes language similar to a bill earlier proposed by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.

A 2002 management plan referred to the lake as one of the most scenic and remote in the park. It had been studied in the past as a possible hydro-power site with distribution lines running to Bethel but studies found such a project would not be economically feasible, the management plan says.

Nuvista Light & Electric Cooperative Inc., in a presentation to legislators earlier this session, said it is seeking to build off past studies. In 2011, it received $10 million from the state to study the feasibility of the lake as a hydroelectric site.

Executive director Elaine Brown said the group was denied a special use permit by the Department of Natural Resources to do geotechnical and geophysical work, such as bringing in a rig to drill bore holes in rocks. But she said Nuvista has gotten other permits to do raptor, fish and other research in the park.

Olson said the changes made a controversial bill more controversial. But Meyer, R-Anchorage, characterized the changes as minor, a view echoed by co-chair Pete Kelly, and Meyer said he didn’t see the need to hold the bill over any more.

Neither Olson nor Hoffman objected to the bill ultimately leaving committee but Olson, in the committee report, recommended the bill not pass. Hoffman recommended it be amended.

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