State looks to fill coastal management void

The Parnell Administration is looking to fill the void left by the closure of the Alaska Coastal Management Program in June.

The program helped coordinate the local, state, and federal permitting process for development projects in coastal areas of the state. Last session, the administration and House Republicans fought proposed changes designed to make it more accountable to local communities, and the legislature failed to reauthorize the program.

State Division of Oil and Gas Director Bill Barron told the House Resources Committee this week (Tuesday) that the Department of Natural Resources has established a special task force to help developers navigate permitting issues. He says the administration has no plans to re-establish the old Coastal Management system. Instead, the task force is looking at modifying the Office of Project Management and Permitting – or O-Pump.

“What we’re trying to structure, recognizing that OPMP has worked very well, is there a way we could have – for lack of a better term – O-PUMP lite,” said Barron. “Something that a smaller company can use to help coordinate that. Is that a twist on ACMP? Maybe. It depends on how you slice the words.”

Bethel Democrat Bob Herron – who attempted to negotiate reauthorization of Coastal Management last session – asked Barron about the practical side of the administration’s work.

“Is O-PUMP lite going to be recognized by your federal counterparts?” asked Herron.

“That’s yet to be seen,” Barron said. “I believe part of that is how we structure it and present it. But we’ll find out.”

A citizens’ initiative co-sponsored by Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho that would re-establish an Alaska Coastal Management Program is currently under review by Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell’s office. Botelho says the program gave local communities input into projects proposed in their backyards, but it also helped developers.

“One of the great features of coastal zone management is the opportunity for basically one-stop permitting – the idea that all agencies would work together in terms of a streamlined permitting process and coordination, which now is lacking,” said Botelho. “And of course the second element which I think is of particular importance is that the federal government would be required to submit its plans for review.”

The proposed initiative was submitted to the Lt. Governor’s office October 7th. Treadwell will rule by December 6th on whether sponsors can begin gathering nearly 26-thousand signatures to put it on next November’s ballot.

The Department of Natural Resources will be back before lawmakers during the upcoming session.