Ballot Measure 2 on Tuesday’s primary election ballot is the most hotly contested initiative Alaska voters have faced in recent memory.
Only the 2008 “Clean Water Initiative” — aimed at stopping development of the proposed Pebble Mine — had more spending for and against. As with that initiative, industry groups are lining up against Measure 2 — outspending proponents by more than seven to one.
If approved, Measure 2 would restore the Alaska Coastal Management Program — a federally funded state agency that operated smoothly, and with little fanfare, for more than 30 years before legislators and the Parnell administration failed to reach a deal to reauthorize it in 2011.
If Measure 2 opponents are to be believed, coastal management is actually a good thing. The one-time head of the state’s coastal management review process Kurt Fredriksson is now the public face of the “Vote No on 2″ campaign.
“Whether it’s called coastal management or some other form, clearly I believe Alaska needs a stronger voice in federal decision making,” Fredriksson told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce in June. “They are a dominant force in Alaska and we have to have a stronger voice in the decisions they make, whether it’s to protect or develop Alaska’s resources.”
But Fredriksson says Measure 2 would be a step backward for the state. The Alaska Coastal Management Program changed significantly during the Frank Murkowski administration. Some say it was gutted; others say reformed. Fredriksson, who also served as Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner under Murkowski, falls into the latter category.
“In the previous coastal management program, which existed for 35 years, there were lots of debates over the years, and those debates got resolved,” he says. “They got settled, and they got reflected in the law. We’re going back to a time when those debates are going to just kind of come up again.”
Fredriksson thinks that will lead to lawsuits, confusion and project delays.
But Ballot Measure 2 supporters say those are exactly the kind of things the initiative would help avoid. It restores the coastal management program’s coordinated review process, which streamlines the coastal development permitting activities of various local, state, and federal agencies.
The Alaska Sea Party sponsored Measure 2. At a recent news conference, Sea Party Co-chair Terzah Tippin Poe gave an example of the regulatory morass developers face without coastal management.
“Say it’s a dock. You’re going to have to take that project proposal, and the list of permits that you need for that project and you’re going to have to go to the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, Corp of Engineers, and walk that from agency to agency,” Poe says.
That may not be a big deal to large corporations, but Poe says it hurts small businesses and individuals.
Measure 2 also would reestablish an Alaska Coastal Policy Board — part of the program scrapped by Murkowski. The board would be comprised of four state commissioners and nine public members to be nominated by local communities and appointed by the governor.
The board would review district management plans developed by coastal communities to ensure they comply with state regulations. Poe says it would not have veto power over projects as claimed by some opponents of the initiative.
“One of the big things that this coastal management program accomplishes, is that you actually identify, a project proponent can identify issues early in the process,” she says. “Then go and talk with communities and get their input on how to work towards a successful development project.”
The reestablishment of a policy board ultimately doomed efforts by state lawmakers to reauthorize the coastal management program during the past two legislative sessions.
Some Measure 2 opponents think the legislature should try again, saying the issue is too complicated to be decided by voters.
“Something as complex as this should really be worked on at the legislative process, so that we can develop something that everybody will agree to,” says Mike Satre, executive director of the Council of Alaska Producers — a trade group representing large scale mines and mining projects in the state.
“But I get very scared about something supporters admit has problems, and simply want it to pass so they can fix it later,” Satre says.
Measure 2 supporters concede it might not be perfect for everyone, and they admit it leans toward giving communities more of a voice in coastal management.
Charlotte Brower is mayor of the North Slope Borough — the Sea Party’s top financial backer. With exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas imminent, Brower says the state can’t afford to delay restarting the program. And she insists it’s not about stopping development.
“We are not in a position to stop offshore development or inshore development. It’s there,” Brower says. “We just need to make sure that we have a seat on the table and talk about this issue that is going to impact our residents. It’s coming.”
Alaska is the only coastal state without a federally approved coastal management program. The 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act allows states that opt for a program to get some federal funding.
Industry opponents of the ballot measure — including the big three oil producers and several mining companies in Alaska — have donated more than $1.5-million to the “Vote No on 2″ campaign.
The Alaska Sea Party has raised just over $204,000, mostly from coastal communities and individuals.