Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 3:57 PM on Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Legislators should re-establish coastal management program

Among the issues Alaska legislators will face when they launch a new session next week is whether to re-establish Alaska's coastal management program.

The answer is simple. Of course, they should. With 34,000 miles of coastline — roughly 38 percent of the coastline of the entire United States — it's unthinkable that Alaska should be without such a program.

For reasons that seem based more on politics than sound policy, the Legislature and governor last year did not reach agreement on extending the program, which, by most accounts, had operated successfully in Alaska for more than 30 years. The program ended June 30.

Alaska now has the unfortunate distinction of being the only maritime state without a coastal management program. Alaska's program was established in the late 1970s as part of a voluntary partnership between the federal government and the nation's coastal and Great Lakes states and territories.

The Alaska Sea Party has organized "to actively support the responsible development, protection, and conservation of Alaska's coastal resources through a robust coastal management program." The group, which includes Kenai Peninsula Assembly member Mako Haggerty, currently is gathering signatures for an initiative that would put a coastal management program before voters. The group has until Jan. 17, the day the Legislature convenes, to collect and submit to the Alaska Division of Elections approximately 26,000 signatures of qualified voters in order for that to happen.

Sea Party organizers are hoping support for the initiative will encourage legislators and the governor to agree on a credible program during the upcoming session, making a vote unnecessary.

If that doesn't happen, Alaskans will have the opportunity to express their support for a new coastal management program at the ballot box.

Without a coastal management program, it will be increasingly difficult for Alaska to balance the competing demands of development and conservation in coastal areas in a coordinated fashion. The program gives Alaskans a voice in coastal development, it gives the state power in federal decisions involving coastal development and it creates a coordinated permit review process. A resolution passed unanimously last year by the Kenai Peninsula Borough in support of the coastal management program noted the program "provides boroughs and municipalities with a unique tool through which 28 coastal governments have an opportunity to bring local knowledge to development projects planned in their localities that require state and federal permits." Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer recently pointed out that the loss of the program means a potential increase in third-party litigation of development permits.

Without a program, Alaskans will be closed out of the federal decision-making process as it relates to coastal development.

Of course, the program carries a price tag. But the cost of Alaskans not having a strong voice in what happens along their coastline will be far more expensive.

Coastal residents and communities deserve a say in what happens where they live. A viable coastal management program helps to give them that. There's no reason for legislators to delay in approving a program.