Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 9:32 PM on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Coastal management bill remains possible



By Pat Forgey
Morris News Service - Alaska

JUNEAU — Members of the Republican-led House Majority Caucus that is expected to decide the fate of the Coastal Management program in the Legislature this year say there is still a chance for a bill.

"We are having some very serious discussions with some Majority members about it," said Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, House Majority leader.

Austerman's comments to reporters Monday were the first public statements from the caucus that controls the House of Representatives since Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said last week it appeared an initiative petition to place the question of restoring the program has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The state's Coastal Management program ended last year, after legislators fighting over how much local control coastal communities should have hit a stalemate on renewal and the program expired.

Development advocates such as Gov. Sean Parnell and some legislators said they feared additional local say on coastal projects would be used to block actions crucial to the state's economy.

The renewal efforts failed when the House adjourned abruptly from a special session called to save the program, and then Parnell ended the program before a second special session could act.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said he wanted the program restored, but after last year the House would have to take the lead on that. House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she wanted the program restored as well, but the Majority would have to take the lead.

Now that the Coastal Management initiative has qualified for the ballot, the only way legislative opponents can head off a public vote is to create a substantially similar program on their own.

Legislators and lawyers reviewing the legal requirements of "of substantially similar" say a weaker version of the program than what the initiative proposes might pass muster with the courts as substantially similar.

Austerman said some members of the Majority have advocated for a bill to restore the program.

"We haven't seen any legislation yet, we're waiting to see if somebody's going to introduce it," he said.

The Majority leader said the full caucus had not discussed the issue, but members of the majority had been discussing it among themselves.

Pat Forgey is a reporter for the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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