Communities get more time on coastal plans

12 of 28 state districts did not have new regulation plans in place

Posted: Monday, February 19, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin is expected Tuesday to sign a bill giving Juneau and other coastal communities more time to revise plans for environmental regulation along their coastlines.

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The House of Representatives on Thursday unanimously approved extending the existing program until Sept. 1. The bill passed the Senate last week.

The revisions to Alaska's coastal zone management program were set in motion in 2003 by former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who said overlapping agency authority and permitting delays were burdensome for developers.

The modified program was approved over the protests of officials in coastal districts, who said it would diminish their oversight over development in their regions.

Revisions to local plans were due March 1. Nevertheless, 12 of 28 districts were in jeopardy of losing local control because their new plans were not in place.

Juneau has requested mediation on its plan, and city staff say they will not meet the old deadline. The legislation gives districts another six months to finish.

Sharon Leighow, Palin's deputy press secretary, said the governor expects to sign the bill Tuesday.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, called the legislative measure "a finger in the dam" but urged lawmakers to pass it.

"The coastal districts have worked extremely hard under what I feel were unreasonable circumstances, and we have got to allow this deadline so we can get the program up and running," Kerttula said.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, said he plans to introduce another bill to expand the program to require the Department of Environmental Conservation to give public notice and take public comment on proposals such as lease sales in federal waters that do not require a state permit.

"That has to do with those issues that are much more complex, much more divisive and that need a fair amount of education by people who are involved for those who don't quite understand all the issues," Olson said.

Olson said the followup measure was a work in progress and may address other issues.

Kerttula said she supports a more comprehensive effort to change the law to give communities more say in what happens in their coastal areas.

The measure is Senate Bill 46.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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