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State Senate seeks special session

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

The Alaska Senate is calling for a special session to keep the state's coastal zone management program from dissolving on June 30. But it's not clear whether the House will go along.

Two-thirds of the legislators must agree before the Legislature can call itself into special session. Senate President Gary Stevens said Friday there's enough support in the 20-member Senate to call a special session in order to extend the life of the embattled program for up to one year.

The bigger challenge, though, will be getting enough of the 40 members of the state House of Representative to agree to go into a special session. House Speaker Mike Chenault said he'll likely start polling House members on it this weekend.

The state's coastal zone management program expires June 30 if nothing is done. Program supporters say it's needed to influence federal development decisions and provide local input. They say losing it could have consequences like preventing federal approval of a potential Arctic deepwater drilling port, and that state would also lose federal grant funds.

The Legislature failed to come up with a compromise on the issue during the regular 90-day session and in the special session that followed. Lack of agreement also scuttled a second special session on the issue that had been planned at the end of May, with lawmakers going as far as booking their tickets to Juneau before it was called off at the last minute.

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 to review coastal issues.

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.

The most recent Senate proposal calls for the program to continue in its current form for up to a year. Senate President Stevens said that would give lawmakers more time to try and find a compromise about what it should look like over the long term.

House Speaker Chenault said he's not sure if there's enough support in the House for that approach.

"Are there enough people to pass it with a one-year extension and what does that buy us? It buys us more time for trying to negotiate. But if you're not willing to negotiate then in a year you end up in the same position," said Chenault, R-Nikiski.

Reach Sean Cockerham at scockerham@adn.com or 257-4344.


By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com