Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:16 PM on Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ballot measure No. 2: Proponents say initiative will give citizens a say

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

If voters don't approve Ballot Measure 2, a citizen initiative recreating an Alaska Coastal Management Program, the federal government could allow finfish farming in offshore waters 3 miles out, including parts of Cook Inlet, backers of the measure said at a forum held last Thursday at Kachemak Bay Campus and attended by about 25 people. Even though Alaska bans finfish farming, fish farmers also would be allowed to pass through state waters to bring products to market.

"We don't have a veto over fish farming," said Bob Shavelson, Cook Inlet Keeper, who spoke with Mako Haggerty, one of the Alaska Sea Party organizers who got the Coastal Management Plan on the Aug. 28 ballot.

States with federally approved Coastal Management Plans can block federal permits for activities inconsistent with the state's plan. Alaska banned finfish farming in 1990.

"We don't have a strong voice in those decisions," Shavelson said. "We don't have a strong Coastal Management Plan."

Bill Smith, who serves on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly with Haggerty, spoke about the borough's Coastal Management Plan. Smith said he had invited someone from Vote No on 2, the organization opposing Ballot Measure 2, to speak.

Willis Lyford, Vote No on 2 campaign manager, said he got the invitation about a week before the event and had wanted to have someone attend.

"We couldn't find anyone to make the trip to Homer," Lyford said. "We wanted to scramble somebody, but we couldn't find someone."

Because of a sunset provision put in the Alaska Coastal Management Program law under the Gov. Frank Murkowski administration, the law expired on June 30, 2011, after the Alaska Legislature failed to pass a new program. The Sea Party, including Haggerty and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, got enough signatures last December to get the initiative on the ballot. The Sea Party thought having enough signatures for a ballot measure would compel the Alaska Legislature to pass a Coastal Management Plan, Haggerty said. That didn't work out.

"I had hoped not to be sitting here to talk about this," he said.

The ballot measure itself is 1.5 pages long. In the election packet, the Legislative Affairs summary is six pages long and the enacting statute is 11 pages long. Botelho and Rep. Beth Kertula, D-Juneau, were among the people who wrote the initiative and the law.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, a strong backer of Ballot Measure 2, attended the forum. His Republican Party opponent in the primary, Jon Faulkner, opposes the measure, but did not attend. Seaton talked about legislative attempts to pass a new law. He said the debate came over the balance between scientific studies and local knowledge and which viewpoint would have priority when projects went to the Coastal Policy Board, a 13-member board appointed by the governor, with nine public members and four commissioners. Gov. Parnell's administration wanted a Coastal Management Plan that would override local knowledge — even if a scientific study was poorly written, Seaton said.

"It was so broad," Seaton said. "That was problematic."

The House unanimously passed a Coastal Management Plan law, but it fell apart in the Senate.

Critics of Ballot Measure 2 have said the law is poorly written, creates more red tape and won't give Alaskans a stronger voice on coastal policy.

At a debate before the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce last month, Judy Brady, a former executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and a former state natural resources commissioner, argued what will appear on the ballot is not the previous program — one she said made for a constant "fist fight."

It creates a "new powerful and complex resource management bureaucracy with new permitting authority over almost all projects in the state and land management authority over both state lands and municipal lands," Brady said.

Backers of Ballot Measure 2 agree it's complicated.

"There's no denying this is a complex initiative," Haggerty said. "We're asking the voters to pass a law."

Backers of Ballot Measure 2 say that Alaska is the only coastal state — and the state with the most coastline — not to have a Coastal Management Plan. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act was signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, with the Alaska version signed in 1997 by Gov. Jay Hammond.

Ballot Measure 2 would restore coastal districts, boundaries and plans in effect when the previous act expired. The community boards and the Coastal Policy Board would advise and comment on development and activity in federal land and waters. The boards review projects for consistency with state and local management plans. Federal projects must be consistent with state plans, which is why Alaska's ban on finfish farming would have to be respected by the federal government, Shavelson said.

Critics of Ballot Measure 2 have said its "inland reach" goes too far. At a Homer Senior Center candidate forum, Faulkner criticized "Yes on 2" signs that read "Support the Coast" as being misleading. He said Coastal Management really refers to watersheds.

That's true, Shavelson said.

"You want to recognize there's a holistic relationship between the watershed and the receiving water," he said.

Old maps of Coastal Districts show the boundaries extending inland. Smith said the Kenai Peninsula district went to the 1,000-foot elevation level. Some critics have said the law would cover mining projects in Fairbanks, but the nearest coastal district boundary is more than 250 miles away.

One benefit to a Coastal Management Plan is that it sets up a single entity for developers, particularly landowners and small businesses, to permitting information, Shavelson noted. It also lets citizens know what permits a developer has applied for. Some permits, like a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fill permit, would require public notice. Large developers also would be better able to go through the permit process while smaller developers might find it confusing, Haggerty said.

As an example of how Coastal Zone Management keeps agencies informed, Haggerty mentioned an idea for Halibut Cove fish rearing pens that almost went through. When Alaska State Parks found out about it, they said it couldn't happen under park regulations.

The backers of Ballot 2 said it really comes down to state and local control — and a voice.

"Without this there is no public input," Haggerty said. "With this plan, we'll have people at this table."

For information on the opponents' arguments against Ballot Measure 2, visit www.VoteNoOn2.net.

For information on the pro-Ballot 2 perspective, visit www.AlaskaCoastalManagement.org.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.