As a result Alaska will lose local input to the federal government in important decisions on coastal development, according to Kodiak Sen. Gary Stevens’ office.
“Given the complaints many of us have made about the federal government controlling our destiny, it’s ironic and regrettable that we have chosen to turn coastal zone management decisions over to them,” Stevens said in a release. “I believe an additional vote can be found in the House and the issue could be resolved. It is my hope that the governor will take that step before we lose our voice in the coastal zone management process.”
The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly passed a resolution in early March asking the Legislature to continue the coastal management program and to strengthen local government authority because the program had assisted the borough in the past when oil and gas exploration occurred off Kodiak’s shore.
The coastal management program provided a mechanism for oil companies and fishing interests to work together so oil exploration could go ahead without affecting fishing seasons.
It has also been an important tool to counter projects that didn’t make sense for Kodiak, according to borough community development director Bud Cassidy.
One such project, in the cleanup effort after the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, was to bring a floating incinerator to Kodiak and burn the oil-absorbent materials in Viekoda Bay on the west side of Kodiak. Local government questioned the plan and an alternative bay was chosen for the incineration.
“There was a log transfer station scheduled off of Myrtle Creek in Chiniak that also was thwarted because of the coastal management program,” Cassidy said.
He said it didn’t make a lot of sense when you could drive a few miles down the road to Lash Dock, for example.
“Those are two instances where the coastal management plan has worked, in some sense,” Cassidy said.
However, under changes to the coastal management program under Gov. Frank Murkowski, the borough has had authority in coastal management over only gravel pits and archaeological sites, Cassidy said. The rest of the authority in coastal management flowed to state agencies.
“There is this perception that it’s going to stand in the way of development,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy said many of the potential conflicts with the coastal management program have to do with oil and gas development, which is a big issue for the North Slope, but relatively minor for Kodiak right now. So the sunset of the coastal management plan may not have a large effect on Kodiak Island in the near term, while it would impact the borough’s budget as it gets a $24,000 grant to help oversee the coastal management program.
But the need for local input could change in the future. There’s always the potential for more oil exploration around Kodiak Island, Cassidy said.
“If oil continues to go up, they will be drilling in places they haven’t drilled before,” he said. “And the Shelikof Strait off of Kodiak is one of them.”
Cassidy noted news items in the Alaska Digest reporting that the NOAA agency in charge of the coastal management program said it would take 18-24 months for a new program to be approved and that the state would shoulder all the costs of establishing a new program. He thinks Gov. Sean Parnell will call the Legislature into another special session to address just the coastal management program renewal.
“The state needs to have a seat at the table with oil companies and the federal government when they do things,” Cassidy said. “And because this is a state’s rights issue.”
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.