Thousands of Alaskans live, work and play along Alaska’s 44,000 miles of coastline. We fish for salmon and halibut, harvest herring, shrimp, herring roe, crabs, and seaweed, dig for clams, watch the whales for fun and hunt them for food, drill for oil and gas, dig for gold, pick berries, harvest timber, hunt, kayak, and surf, and, in the quiet of a summer evening, stand on a rocky shore and marvel at the wonder that is Alaska’s coast.
Giving Alaskans a voice in how to balance these potentially competing uses and activities is the reason a coastal program is needed in Alaska. That’s why I, along with other municipal officials, civic leaders, and interested Alaskans have banded together to promote a citizens’ ballot initiative to revive the Alaska Coastal Management Program.
A majority of this nation’s resource use and economic activity occurs in the productive boundary between land and ocean. Congress foresaw that, as population and development pressures increased in this zone, so would conflicts. Rather than impose centralized federal management, however, Congress passed the Coastal Zone Management Act to empower coastal states to manage, protect, and develop their coastal resources and granted state and local governments a decisive voice in federal coastal resource and development decisions.
In 1977, in response to increasing offshore oil and gas development, upstream timber harvesting, and a growing fishing industry, Governor Jay Hammond introduced the Alaska Coastal Management Act. Two years later, the federal government approved Alaska’s first coastal management program. With that approval, regardless of where an activity occurred or who was responsible for permitting, the state and local coastal communities had a meaningful say in coastal projects – providing guidance for sound economic development while maintaining other coastal resource uses and values.
In 1984, Governor Bill Sheffield adopted a coordinated review process for coastal projects. In addition to a predictable timeframe for permit review, the process promoted development by providing a way to reach consensus among state and federal resource agencies, project applicants, and each affected coastal community. To achieve consensus, permit conditions were designed to ensure proposed projects could move forward with minimal impact to other resource values.
In 2003, the program was altered to all but silence local community voices. And finally, the Alaska Coastal Management Program died in the 2011 legislative session. As a result, Alaska garnered the distinction of being the only coastal state in the nation without a coastal management program.
The ability to affect federal actions such as offshore oil and gas leasing and activities on federal land was a major reason Alaska established a coastal program over 30 years ago. Today, the federal government retains ownership of about 60 percent of Alaska lands, much of it along the coast. Considerable offshore activity permitted by federal agencies occurs beyond the state’s three-mile limit. The state coastal program needs to be revived because it provides the means for the state and local coastal communities to substantively influence federal actions that are otherwise out of state and local government jurisdiction. With a new, improved coastal management program, Alaskans can regain their voices and once again have control over our coastal lands, waters, and resources.
For the coastal program initiative to appear on the 2012 election ballot, we must collect 26,000 valid voters’ signatures prior to the convening of the legislature on January 17, 2012. Please make your voice heard by signing the petition when you see a signature gatherer. Also, go to our website where you can volunteer or donate to the cause. Together, we can make a difference for all Alaskans.
Bruce Botelho is chairperson of the Alaska Sea Party, the grassroots organization seeking to restore a coastal management program for Alaska. He is the mayor of the City and Borough of Juneau and previously served eight years as Alaska’s attorney general under two different governors. He is a member of the Alaska Municipal League’s board of directors, and serves on numerous other boards.
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