(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Want wetlands permits to better reflect Alaska?

Reinstate the Alaska Coastal Management Program.

  • By Bruce Botelho and Kate Troll
  • Wednesday, March 22, 2023 5:08pm
  • Opinion

The state of Alaska seeks to take over the Army Corps’ permitting program for wetlands. As one DEC program manager noted, “We need to be able to focus in on a program that is written and built for Alaska”, echoing DEC Commissioner Jason Brune who spoke about regulations that “could be adapted so they are more suited to Alaska’s geography.”

News Flash: For more than 35 years Alaska had just such a program first implemented under Gov. Jay Hammond. It was the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program. Under this program, numerous of Alaska’s flagship resource projects were permitted, among them the Red Dog Mine, North Slope projects, Greens Creek, Cook Inlet oil and gas and the Kensington mine. The ACMP provided coastal regions a meaningful voice in decisions affecting their physical surroundings. The business community benefitted from the ACMP’s one-stop permitting process for all kinds of projects.

The ACMP, was established in 1977 by the Alaska Legislature with broad bipartisan support. Then through regulations requiring the federal government to be “consistent,” Alaska developed its own rules that accounted for Alaska’s unique geography and dependence on resource development. Before the program expired under the Parnell Administration there were 28 communities and regions from all across Alaska participating in the ACMP. The ACMP was one the most pro-Alaska and pro-community programs ever established by the state.

Of particular note is that the federal government paid the state of Alaska, including the participating communities, tens of millions of dollars to sit at the table.

In 2011 and 2012 Gov. Sean Parnell led the effort to kill ACMP and to oppose a citizen-led initiative to reinstate the program. The campaign against the initiative relied on a tried-and-true, but disingenuous, message: ACMP was a job killer. No facts were put forward to establish the assertion—it was simply an article of faith against imposition of any regulatory framework. Ironically, one of the chief architects against ACMP is the same Jason Brune who now seeks a program to manage wetland permits that would “allow more flexibility that benefits both businesses and the environment in Alaska’s unique conditions.”

At the time, ACMP’s opponents frequently claimed that they liked coastal management; they just didn’t like the proposal on the ballot and that they would put forth an alternative should the initiative be repealed. We’re still waiting.

We welcome efforts to find the most cost-effective system of regulations that are well-adapted to Alaska’s unique geography. We firmly believe it lies with reinstatement of a coastal zone management program, one requiring federal actions with reasonably foreseeable effects on coastal uses and resources be consistent with the enforceable policies of a state’s approved coastal management program. We invite the administration and the legislature to examine whether it makes sense to use a minimum of $5 million of general funds each year to staff up a separate program. As noted by Sen. Bill Wielechowski during a recent hearing on this matter, Alaska has far more wetlands and far fewer staff to provide oversight than the three states who have chosen to take over some 404 permitting. Let’s instead return to a federally recognized CZM program that takes advantage of renewed federal funding and of local control.

• Bruce Botelho, former Juneau Mayor and former State Attorney General, served as co-chair of the 2012 citizen’s initiative to reinstate the Alaska Coastal Management Program in Alaska. Kate Troll, former Juneau Assembly member, worked with communities and regions across Alaska to develop local coastal management plans. Troll also coordinated and facilitated a statewide assessment of the ACMP when working in the Office of Gov. Tony Knowles.

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