JUNEAU -- The most expensive campaign in Alaska this year is being waged over a proposal to re-establish a coastal management program in the state.
More than $918,000 has been raised so far -- the bulk of it coming from resource development and industry groups seeking to defeat Ballot Measure 2.
Opponents say they're not against the state having a coastal management program. It's just the type of program laid out by the initiative that they have a problem with, which they contend could impede development. The group "Vote No on 2" calls the proposal a "defective, deceptive measure that would create confusion and legal uncertainty, establish a new government bureaucracy and hamstring the state's economy and job creation."
Supporters say the proposal will give the state a meaningful say on federal decisions affecting Alaska's coastal areas, and that it doesn't differ dramatically from the kind of program Alaska had in place for decades before it ended last summer. They say the new initiative would serve to help coordinate the permitting process and cut through red tape.
The initiative was initially proposed in hopes of spurring the Legislature to pass substantially similar legislation this year. But lawmakers opted instead to let the people have their say.
The issue will appear on the Aug. 28 primary ballot.
Coastal management was a hot-button issue in the Legislature during the 2010 and 2011 sessions as Alaska's previous law neared its sunset date. The program, first created in the 1970s, was changed -- some say gutted -- in 2003 under then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. During recent sessions, legislators, particularly from rural Alaska, sought to overhaul rather than just extend a coastal management law they considered to be broken.
They pushed to ensure local communities had a greater say in development decisions that could affect their way of life, particularly with the future potential for significant offshore development. But the Legislature and governor ultimately failed to come to terms, and the program ended leaving Alaska as the only coastal state without a program.
The new initiative calls for a 13-member coastal policy board, with nine public members and four state commissioners. Supporters say it wouldn't have veto authority over projects but could make recommendations on how to improve projects.
Opponents say there are concerns with the makeup of the board and the board's role, including that it would be empowered to approve regulations to implement the program. Those regulations would be subject to public comment, but opponents still fear the board will have too much control over development projects.
The last iteration of the program held that state Department of Environmental Conservation standards for air, land and water quality were the standards for the coastal management program. That language isn't included this time.
Terzah Tippin Poe, co-chair of the Alaska Sea Party, the group behind the initiative, said she's "mystified" by industry opposition, noting that development on Alaska's North Slope and mine projects like Kensington and Red Dog all occurred with a coastal management program in place. "In my opinion, there's very little risk projects will be stopped or slowed down," she said.
Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby, an original sponsor of the initiative, accused the opposition of "boogeyman fear-mongering, plain and simple." He said multinational companies view average Alaskans as a "nuisance" they'd rather not have to deal with.
Kara Moriarty, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said companies "value and seek out" local input on projects and the opposition isn't trying to sidestep local involvement. If the initiative fails, she said, and the governor or a legislator proposed a "workable" program, "we will very much be a part of that discussion."