Coastal management bill stalled in House

With less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session, it’s looking unlikely lawmakers will pass a bill to re-establish the Alaska Coastal Management Program.

A citizens’ initiative setting up program has been approved for a statewide vote later this year. But lawmakers could pre-empt the measure with “substantially similar” legislation.

Kodiak Republican Alan Austerman – the House Majority Leader – introduced a bill that closely mirrors the initiative. But Austerman says he’s aware some House members oppose legislative action on the coastal management issue.

“We heard one of the sponsors of the initiative on the discussion at the one hearing we had talking about something that works,” Austerman told reporters Monday. “And so that’s really where our goal is, to find something that works and that’s acceptable to the legislature. Can we get there? We don’t know yet.”

Austerman’s bill had one hearing in the House Resources Committee two weeks ago. A legislative legal advisor testified that lawmakers would have significant leeway to decide what “substantially similar” means.

The group behind the initiative – the Alaska Sea Party – supports legislative action. Sea Party Chairman and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho has said a bill passed this session would get a coastal management program up and running sooner, and avoid a costly and potentially contentious campaign to get voters to approve the initiative.

Before closing last year, the Alaska Coastal Management Program allowed the state and local communities to have greater input into federal permitting decisions along Alaska’s coastline. It also helped developers by streamlining the regulatory processes of various state and federal agencies.

The legislature failed to reauthorize it after the Parnell administration and some House Republicans fought efforts to expand the role of local communities.

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