My turn: Demise of coastal program will hurt Alaska dearly

Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The recent announcement by Gov. Frank Murkowski to allow the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) to expire this summer will have dire consequences for all Alaskans. Since 1977, the program has provided Alaska's coastal districts with an indispensable voice in state and federal decisions that affect coastal resources and uses. This program has been especially useful to minimize effects and worked cohesively with development projects on coastal resources and its uses.

The program allows coastal districts to develop coastal management plans adapted to address local issues. Coastal districts are formed by cities, boroughs; for communities in the unorganized borough, they are known as Coastal Resource Service Areas (CRSAs). Coastal districts and CRSAs implement an important provision in the Alaska Constitution to allow for maximum local participation and responsibility along Alaska's coast.

Many Alaskans depend on subsistence to nourish family and relatives who could not afford. The expense of local stores is simply too costly for many. In addition, subsistence is a deep-rooted part of history, culture and tradition. It inhibits dire poverty and hunger in the remotest places of Alaska; it sustains life.

Originally, the coastal management program was designed to provide an essential role for local governments and to allow the "little guys" to express concerns during the permitting process. Recent changes to the program have removed local control and reduced public participation to an empty and futile exercise.

The administration introduced House Bill 191 that completely revamped the program in 2003. The intent of this law was to "streamline" the process, provide "predictability" and prevent "duplication." In reality, the implementation of this law has resulted in an unpredictable process and regulatory confusion. Changes to the ACMP regulations made in 2004 are mostly incomprehensible.

The new regulations removed the ability of statewide ACMP standards or coastal district policies that address subsistence or habitat issues from projects on federal lands and waters. In other words, the state or coastal districts can no longer influence federal decisions about projects that affect coastal uses and resources. In addition, these changes have removed the ability to develop local criteria for development projects and issues to air and water quality. How could one comment on the effects of a project to renewable resources or habitats if air and water quality standards cannot be included? Or how can one include traditional and experiential knowledge to compliment science? Duplication?

The current administration has thrown smoke bombs to deceive the general public into thinking that the coastal management program is a failure and slows development. Although press releases and letters continually refer to how the program has delayed projects, there are never examples of specific projects that have been delayed by the ACMP. The reason for this is that less than one percent of projects are appealed, and most of those appealed projects are eventually approved.

Recently, the administration blamed the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and for imposing unreasonable restrictions on Alaska's ability to change its coastal management program. In reality, NOAA has only required modest changes to the coastal management program that will facilitate continued federal funding.

The recent announcement that the administration will let the program expire this July is nothing less than the enmity on subsistence. While the ACMP does not address allocation issues, it has always been an important tool to minimize effects on development projects to Alaskan resources, subsistence, and fish and wildlife habitats.

The issue is clear; Alaska must recognize that subsistence is what makes this great state unique from all others. It is our heritage, our culture, and a tradition to guarantee the beauty of our renewable resources for future generations, and appreciate that subsistence is an interconnected element to everyone in Alaska.

The coastal management program has been a beneficial and important policy for the last 25 years, and with a touch of fine-tuning; our coast will offer Alaskans valuable resources and uses for our children's children. Join now and express your concerns to our leadership and our administration that the ACMP is an essential part of Alaska, local control, states rights, and sustainable development.

• John Oscar is the coastal coordinator for the Cenaliulriit Coastal Resource Service Area, which serves the Yukon-Kuskokwim area.

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