Communities rush to draw up coastal plans

Area officials struggle to meet deadline for development oversight

Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2007

JUNEAU - Coastal communities struggling to meet a March 1 deadline to draw up new plans for environmental oversight of development along their coastline could be granted a temporary reprieve under a proposal before the Alaska Legislature.

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A measure that would extend the existing program by six months moved out of the Senate Resources Committee on Monday. Restructuring of the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program has been under way since 2003.

The changes were first proposed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who cited too much overlapping authority and too many permitting delays for coastal development.

The overhaul met with protests from local communities who said it would gut their role in approving development projects that affect coastal areas, but the federal government approved the revision to the state program over a year ago.

Randy Bates, deputy director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting for the Department of Natural Resources, said most communities are close to completing their local plans though he acknowledged the process has taken longer than anyone had foreseen and more time was needed.

"Six months does seem to be a reasonable amount of time based on our conversations with the coastal districts," Bates said.

Of 28 coastal communities participating in the program, only two are expected to have their plans in effect by the deadline, said Bates.

Marlene Campbell, coastal management coordinator for the city and borough of Sitka, said she is worried the community will not have a plan on file before the old program sunsets.

"I feel there's plenty, shall we say, blame to go around in terms of the extent of the revisions that have been required and the changing requirements that have come along throughout the process and broadsided the coastal districts," Campbell said.

Senate Bill 46 was moved out of committee without objection and now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

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