Auditor Releases Findings for Coastal Management Program Future

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

Thursday, the Legislature’s auditor released her findings and recommendations for the future of the state’s Coastal Management Program.   The program is designed to involve coastal residents in any development in their areas – allowing them input in government decisions at both the state and federal levels.

The audit was prompted by last year’s legislative debate when lawmakers from coastal communities unsuccessfully attempted to expand the program.  This year, those same interests are combined with the scheduled closing of the program at the end of June.    Two bills have been introduced to extend the program unchanged, but supporters have deferred decisions on expansion until the audit was complete.

House Finance Co-Chair Bill Thomas, of Haines, predicts changes pointed out by one audit finding that criticized the Department of Natural Resources’ policy forbidding outside consultants from helping coastal communities.  However, Thomas downplays the final audit’s role in any plans for expansion of the program.

The audit primarily focused on management, transparency and communications with local management bodies — finding faults in record keeping and in steps that have resulted in a lack of consensus-building that the program was designed to facilitate.

Senate Finance Co-Chair Lyman Hoffman of Bethel says he plans to meet next month with the director of the federal coastal management system.  He says he wants to find out how the program works in other oil-producing states – and particularly to find out how the state’s program fits in with the intent of federal law.  He says the audit has pointed to possible changes to Alaska’s program.

Neither of the simple extension bills has yet been scheduled for hearings.

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