State Looks for Coastal Management Alternative

The Parnell administration is still looking for a way to replace the work done by the Alaska Coastal Management Program before it was forced to close at the end of June.   The program was involved in getting permits for development projects in Coastal areas by acting to coordinate local, state and federal requirements.

The State’s Director of Oil and Gas,  Bill Barron, told the House Resources Committee this week that working through a series of permitting issues was an impediment to the oil industry’s ability to put more oil into the TransAlaska Pipeline.  And, he said, since the Coastal Management Program closed,  it is the responsibility of individual companies to coordinate their work with governmental agencies at all levels.

“That may sound really fast, as an okay thing.  But that is a real issue.  It’s an issue that has come up in several of the meetings that we’ve had in the general public.  It’s a discussion that we’re ongoing right now, having with several of the operators of the companies that we’re dealing with in the DNR and the DOG,” Barron said.

The Department of Natural Resources has established a special Task Force on Permitting to come up with alternatives to the Coastal Management Program for developers.  Barron told the committee that its plans do not now include trying to re-establish the old Coastal Management system.  Instead, the task force is looking at modifying the Office of Project Management and Permitting – or O-PUMP.

“So what we’re trying to structure, recognizing that OPMP has worked very well,  is there a way we could have – for lack of a better term – O-PUMP- Lite.   Something that a smaller company can use to help coordinate that.    Is that a twist on ACMP?  Maybe.  It depends on how you slice the words,” Barron said.

Bethel Representative Bob Herron – one of those who attempted to negotiate a continuation of Coastal Management during this year’s regular and special sessions — asked Barron about the practical side of the administration’s work.

“Is OPMP-Lite going to be recognized by your federal counterparts?,” Herron asked.

Barron responded, “That’s yet to be seen.  I believe part of that is how we structure it and present it.  But we’ll find out.

Re-creating Coastal Management is the goal of a voters’ initiative that the administration is currently reviewing before allowing petitions that could put it on next year’s ballot.  Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is one of the sponsors.  He says before the program was lost this summer, it provided state and local participation in planning and management of development.  But it was an advantage to developers, also.

“One of the great features of coastal zone management is the opportunity for basically one-stop permitting — the idea that all agencies would work together in terms of a streamlined permitting process and coordination,  which now is lacking.   And of course the second element which I think is of particular importance is that the federal government would be required to submit its plans for review,” Botelho said.

The Department of Natural Resources will be back before the Committee during the regular session.  The initiative was submitted to the Lt. Governor’s office Oct. 7. A determination is due by Dec. 6 on whether sponsors may try to gather nearly 26,000 signatures to put the question on the ballot.

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