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Legislature close to special session on coast management

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

Alaska state legislators are poised to go into another special session next week to deal with a bill to keep the coastal zone management program alive.

Legislative leaders said it appears as though they have the necessary support of two-thirds of the Legislature to call themselves into special session.

"It looks like there probably is (enough support). But I have a few members that I need to finish up with," said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

Lawmakers expect the special session would begin Tuesday in Juneau and last for a couple of days. The idea is to have a deal in place before the session starts to avoid the quarreling over this issue that's been going on for more than two years.

The state's coastal zone management program expires next month if nothing is done. Supporters of the program say it's needed to influence federal development decisions and to give local communities input on development issues. The state would also lose at least $2.5 million in federal grant funds if the program is allowed to expire.

The Legislature failed to come up with a compromise on the issue during the regular 90-day session as well as the previous special session that ended earlier this month. The House voted down a proposed deal in part because of concerns about how much emphasis "local knowledge" would be given in an advisory board that would review coastal management issues.

The House and Gov. Sean Parnell also wanted the governor to be able to remove a board member at any time, rather than having to show cause. The compromise that legislators are now talking about passing would require the governor to have cause but there wouldn't need to be a hearing or written notice.

The role of the board has been a hugely contentious issue in the Legislature, with Arctic coastal communities wanting a greater voice on offshore oil development in their areas and the oil and gas and mining industries wary of it being a hurdle for projects.

Senate Majority Leader Kevin Meyer said at least 15 of the 20 senators are supportive of going into a special session to deal with the issue. He said there have been talks among lawmakers and it looks like the Senate is going to accept a version of the bill that's similar to what Parnell and the House had previously agreed on.

"I think at this point in time we just want to salvage the program," said Meyer, R-Anchorage.

Meyer said the plan is for the special session to last "two days at the most."

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, wrote Parnell, Chenault and Senate President Gary Stevens on Wednesday to say they shouldn't let the coastal zone management program die. Doing so would cost the state an opportunity to influence federal decisions and could limit what's allowed for offshore oil development, Begich said.

More Alaska Legislature coverage
By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com