AD Main Menu

Why Alaskans should vote to restore coastal management program

Ben Anderson photo

During my eight years as governor, we used the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) to facilitate and effectively promote numerous development projects. Through ACMP, Alaskans were at the table to help government agencies and industries determine how best we could develop Alaska’s resources. The program worked well and made sense then. It still makes sense today.

I’m pleased Alaskans have the opportunity to bring back smart coastal development by voting for Ballot Measure 2 in the Aug. 28 primary election.

In my experience, coastal management was an important part of a successful process during one of Alaska’s most active periods of new exploration and increased development of oil and gas. We worked closely with industry and federal agencies in developing the Northstar, Alpine, and Badami oil fields.  For the first time in a generation, we opened millions of acres of federal land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. All of these oil and gas projects, and dozens of other projects on the North Slope and in the Cook Inlet area, moved forward with full utilization of the coastal management process.

Why? The program was more than local participation. It succeeded because it also coordinated agencies and the permitting process between state and federal government. It gave industry simplified access and accountability.

The ACMP was good government and made good sense. It’s still a good idea.

Our coastal program didn’t help just oil and gas projects.  It included the massive development of Dutch Harbor industrial seafood processing facilities, improvements to Southeast fishing facilities, and numerous new mining projects. There were many improvements to urban areas, such as the major renovation of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, significant rebuilding of the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward and Kenai. All of these important projects were planned and completed through the ACMP.

What did local communities want to negotiate at the table with industry and government agencies?

They wanted to protect water quality, ensure adequate safety and cleanup procedures, protect land and ocean wildlife and fish habitat, and provide revenues to mitigate local impacts. They wanted a forum for important community economic and cultural concerns.

These are hardly radical or extreme concepts.  Most Alaskans embrace these important development considerations. Alaskans want people at ground zero to have a strong voice. They want locals to help make the case for the best possible resource development in their communities.

The ACMP worked. Local residents and communities participated and their voices were heard. These projects had strong local support and all were developed.

But because of political gridlock in Juneau, the Alaska Legislature let the ACMP die. We lost an important opportunity to bring communities to the table when industry proposes projects in coastal areas. Losing the ACMP eliminated Alaska’s most effective tool to influence federal land and water use decisions.

When Alaska became the only coastal state in America without a coastal management program, we no longer held what other coastal states had -- a unique upper hand in dealing with the feds. This is the only national act that requires federal agencies to be consistent with a state program, and we gave it away.

During my administration, the overarching accomplishment of coastal management was to replace litigation and confrontation with communication and negotiation. At the end of the day, the ACMP created a sense of common purpose and empowered local people to be the guardians of promises made.

At a time when people are fed up with partisan polarization and political stalemate, we can take an important and positive step away from that sort of divisiveness. We can reinstate a program with a proven record of accomplishment and moving development forward.

ACMP opponents claim it stops or delays development and that we need fewer regulations and no interference from residents and communities. I know they’re wrong, and so do several states with no reputation for burdensome regulations or roadblocks to development.

Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana haven’t found the Coastal Management Program an obstruction to development. Neither did Alaska for the 34 years we used the program. Add to this list the entire Eastern and Western seaboards, the Great Lakes states, and Hawaii and we have an overwhelming consensus that coastal management is an effective pro-development tool for state and local control.

In the entire nation, only Alaska has missed the boat.

We can correct that mistake. Look at the facts, not the sales pitches. Stand up for Alaska and positive resource development. Vote yes on Prop. 2.

Tony Knowles is a Democrat who served two terms as Alaska's governor. He lives in Anchorage.

Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.