Gov. Sarah Palin's restoration of the Habitat Division to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is a welcome sign that government by the people and for the people is alive and well in Alaska.
Previously, Gov. Frank Murkowski and his ideologically driven chief of staff, Jim Clark, made a shambles of Alaska's permit system by moving the Habitat Division from the Department of Fish and Game to the Department of Natural Resources. Murkowski's move of the Habitat Division from Fish and Game to the Department of Natural Resources made no sense and was almost universally panned. Murkowski and his sidekick also shifted significant authority for reviewing development projects from the office of the governor to the Department of Natural Resources, another move that was based on weird ideology but not calculated to encourage sensible development in Alaska.
Thoughtful observers of development in our state have long known that the only smart place to reconcile the sometimes competing interests between economic enterprise, job creation and protection of community and environmental values is in the governor's office. These observations are grounded in the obvious fact that only the governor can ultimately decide where to strike the balance between various constitutional mandates and the sometimes competing agendas of the various state agencies. Only the governor, as the state's chief executive officer, can provide the guidance and leadership to balance the conflicting aspects inherent in most development projects, particularly the large-scale projects that so often dominate public discussion in Alaska.
Palin and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin deserve credit and thanks for undoing one of Murkowski's mistakes by putting the Habitat Division back where the agency belongs. Hopefully, Palin and her cabinet will complete the job of making government work for every citizen of Alaska by reclaiming authority and control over project review. In the end, the governor and the Office of the Governor need to provide oversight for projects. Leaving comprehensive project review in the hands of bureaucrats of any one state agency that has a narrow statutory orientation is not the way to encourage smart development in Alaska. With any luck at all, Palin will finish the task of undoing Murkowski's mistake and reclaim responsibility for overseeing project development review within the office of the governor where the task belongs.