Initiative aims to restore coastal management program

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is one of three local elected officials from around the state spearheading an effort to resuscitate the Alaska Coastal Management Program.

Before shutting down at the end of June, coastal management worked with developers, local residents, and state and federal permitting agencies to review proposed projects along the state’s coastline.

Botelho says it was disheartening to see the program go away after the governor and legislature couldn’t agree on terms to reauthorize it. Now a citizen’s initiative, sponsored by Botelho – along with Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Mako Haggerty – would revive the program.

Botelho says an application for the initiative petition, signed by more than 200 people, was delivered to the lieutenant governor’s office on Friday.

“Our initiative is intended to encourage our state leaders to redouble their efforts to create a credible coastal management program during the 2012 legislative session,” says Botelho. “And if they are unable to do so, Alaskans will have an opportunity to express their support for Alaska’s coastal program in November 2012.”

The proposed initiative differs from a bill to reauthorize coastal management that was on the table during this year’s legislative sessions. It reverts to the way the program was run prior to 2003, when Governor Frank Murkowski implemented sweeping changes to it. Many local communities opposed those changes.

“What we’ve tried to do here is design a program that we think is most suitable for Alaska,” Botelho says. “And part of that is looking and making sure that the permitting process is streamlined, that it encompasses all programs done by our resource agencies, and that it be done in a coordinated, collaborative way.”

Hagerty says he was disappointed with the legislative process, and thinks the initiative is a better alternative.

“We’re not just going to be delivering signatures. We’re going to be delivering a message that this is a program that the state needs to participate in,” says Haggerty.

Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell has 60 days to determine whether the initiative meets the legal framework to go before the public. At that point, the sponsors can begin collecting the nearly 26,000 signatures needed to qualify it for the ballot.

Botelho says the goal is to finish before the legislature begins next year’s session in January. That would give lawmakers the option of passing a substantially similar law or allowing it to proceed to a vote.