Former DOT officials favor moving Habitat

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2003

Four former transportation commissioners are supporting a plan to remove permitting duties from the state's Habitat Division.

The commissioners - including retired commissioner Mike Barton, who was appointed this week to again head the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities - penned a letter in support of Gov. Frank Murkowski's plan.

The Murkowski administration said their support underscores concerns about the state Habitat Division obstructing or delaying legitimate projects in the state.

In his State of the State Address last month, Murkowski unveiled his plan to change the permitting process. He proposes shifting permitting responsibilities - often a necessary step in road and construction projects that cross streams - to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The plan would give the more industry-friendly Department of Natural Resources final say in issuing permits. It's a significant change because the current process puts state departments at odds with each other when reviewing proposals.

The commissioners' letter, dated Tuesday, was released by the governor's office Thursday, along with a statement from the governor defending his plan.

The letter says the proposed reorganization "will allow the development of a team at DNR that provides a genuinely balanced, multidisciplinary permit review."

"As former commissioners at DOT, these men know firsthand the trouble and delays the Habitat Division has been able to cause for a host of construction projects over the years," Murkowski said in a press statement.

Barton was a DOT commissioner under former Gov. Walter J. Hickel. Along with Barton, former commissioners Mark Hickey, Richard Knapp and Frank Turpin signed the letter.

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