JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell's bill to streamline state permitting procedures is moving rapidly through legislative committees in Juneau.
This is the second year Parnell has sought changes. Last year the governor proposed, and lawmakers approved, House Bill 361, which made some of the most important changes the governor had wanted.
This year's changes, in House Bill 77 and Senate Bill 26, involve additional streamlining steps proposed by the state Division of Land and Water Management. HB 77 is now in the House Rules Committee, while SB 26 is in the Senate Finance Committee.
Some of the most important changes include:
* Giving the commissioner of Natural Resources more authority to issue general permits, rather than project-specific permits where activities are unlikely to cause harm. The state may now have this authority, but the bill makes it explicit.
* Gives the state more flexibility in negotiating land exchanges with Alaska Native corporations or others, which can take years. The legislation adopts a more simplified approach used now by the state in doing land exchanges with municipalities.
* Allows property sales, such as for cabin sites to be done with an installment contract in lieu of all cash up-front, the current practice.
* Gives the commissioner authority to extend land and tideland leases where it is in the state's interest, and for longer-term renewal of aquatic farm leases.
* Gives the commissioner authority to issue more than one water-use permit for a project and more flexibility in issuing the permits.
* Reserves the rights to apply for in-stream water flow reservations to agencies and municipalities, and eliminates the ability of private or non-government entities to apply for the water reservations.
* Reserves the right to file appeals of state Best Interest Findings to those who have an interest or will be harmed by a proposed action, and to file other types of appeals.
The water reservation exclusion of private parties has caused the most criticism of the bills to date. One of the two successful amendments in the House Resources Committee, offered by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, gives 35 people with pending water reservation applications one year from the bill's passage to pick a qualified entity to continue their request. Several of the pending applications could impact plans for development of the Pebble mine project.
Seaton warned that bill could also prompt new "extended jurisdiction" claims by federal agencies in response to Native tribes seeking protection of subsistence resources.
Seaton said not allowing Native organizations to apply for water reservations to protect subsistence fisheries could force them to seek the same protection under more favorable federal laws.
"The State of Alaska would almost be requesting federal overreach in areas where we currently manage waters for the state," Seaton warned.