The Aleutians East Borough has set out to lend its hand to the resource development permitting process in the Southwest Alaska, and is asking residents to share their thoughts as well. Six years ago, the borough applied for a grant that would help them establish a land use permitting system. That system would require any resource development - from gravel to oil - to meet with borough standards, as well as those the state and federal government already have in place.
They received the Coastal Impact Assistance Program grant, and have begun the process of establishing a program. "We're now just in the initial stages," said Anne Bailey, the borough's community development director.
Most recently, they've started the public input process, holding community discussions in Cold Bay, King Cove, False Pass, Nelson Lagoon and Sand Point. Though there's no major development on the immediate horizon, Bailey said, residents were eager to add their areas of concern to the discussion.
"Sand Point had suggested including energy projects as one of the things to consider permitting, which we hadn't thought of," Bailey said. "Cold Bay was interested in putting stipulations on hunting and fishing guides so they couldn't hunt or fish in subsistence areas."
Another suggestion was to expand the resource development area to include all borough lands, and not just specific areas.
The program would give locals some authority over land use, Bailey said, especially as Alaska is currently without a Coastal Management Program. That program reached its sunset recently, and in a 2012 ballot measure Alaskans decided not to extend it. Legislation to redesign a new Coastal Management Plan is in the works. As is the Aleutians East plan.
"Right now we don't have any permitting processes or anything in place," Bailey said. "We really don't know what's going on in the area. Somebody could come in and just set up a sand gravel business and we wouldn't know how it was being done."
Other industries that fall under this type of permitting include oil and gas exploration, mining, gravel extraction, rock and sand extraction, eco-tourism, fishing and hunting.
A key part of moving forward right now is working with knowledgeable consultants, Bailey said. The CIAP grant allowed them to hire Harvey Consulting LLC of Eagle River and Solstice Alaska Inc. They are able to help the borough navigate the permitting processes already in place throughout government and industry systems.
Aleutians East can are also looking to other Alaskan boroughs who have similar programs in place, including the North Slope and Lake and Peninsula.
Bailey estimates that establishing the program will take approximately three years.
Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times. Contact us about this article at editor(at)thebristolbaytimes.com