Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unraveling The Mysteries Of Alaska 2012 Ballot Measure Two To Restore A Coastal Management Program; The Cure May Be Worse Than The Disease

Alaskans who may be inclined to blow off the August 28th primary election because of the number of legislative candidates running unopposed risk not having a voice in two statewide ballot measures to be decided, one of which would seriously impact our economic future. Ballot Measure One, designated 09RPEA, is relatively cut and dried; it amends Section 1 of AS 29.45.050(a) to allow a city or borough to raise the property tax exemption on a residence from $20,000 to as much as $50,000 by way of an affirmative vote in a local election. The bill also allows a city or borough to pass a law to adjust this exemption to reflect a raise in the cost of living. Since it actually gives more power to local communities, it's a no-brainer, and I recommend a Yes vote.

-- Read the actual text of Ballot Measure One HERE.

Ballot Measure Two is anything but cut and dried. Designated 11ACMP, it calls for the establishment of a new Alaska Coastal Management Program to replace the program that died a year ago when the legislature couldn't agree on its extension. Alaska would once again be able to participate in the federal Coastal Zone Management Act. The measure would restore the coastal districts, boundaries, and district plans that were in effect on June 30th, 2011 under the prior coastal management program. It would add three layers of unelected bureaucracy, first by creating the Division of Ocean and Coastal Management within the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. This new subdivision would develop new state and local standards to review projects in coastal areas of the State, but these standards and new permitting procedures would be in addition to existing state and federal permitting requirements. Any new standards developed by the Coastal Management Program would still require approval by the U.S. Department of Commerce under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.

The second layer of bureaucracy would result from the creation of a Coastal Policy Board, whose 13 members would be appointed by the governor. Nine of them would be members of the public from coastal areas, while the other four would be the state commissioners of Environmental Conservation, Fish & Game, Natural Resources, and Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. Among the primary functions of this board would be to coordinate agencies for coastal and ocean planning, work with agencies to develop and implement the program, and would review, approve, and evaluate coastal district management plans.

After reading Paul Jenkins' assessment of Ballot Measure Two, I agree that the third layer of bureaucracy would result from the creation of the various local district panels. Even though the new Division of Ocean and Coastal Management would exercise some oversight over the local district panels, these local panels can be notoriously mercurial in their decision-making. For example, one could have their plans to build a cabin on private land disapproved one year, but a neighbor's cabin plan approved the following year simply because a local district panel changes composition.

-- Read the actual 16-page text of Ballot Measure Two HERE.

And what do we get in exchange for increased complexity and three layers of bureaucracy? According to the Yes On 2 website, which is the clearinghouse for supporters of Ballot Measure Two, it will give Alaskans greater input into federal decisions impacting our coasts by plugging us back into the Coastal Zone Management Act. They claim it will also cut red tape, coordinate permitting, resolve conflicts and avoid lawsuits, although I fail to see how creating three bureaucracies cuts red tape. The list of supporters is also educational. Of the 38 mayors listed as supporters, 36 represent rural communities, with Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and Fairbanks-North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins the only exceptions. Of the 17 state lawmakers listed as supporters, 15 of them are Democrats, with Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) and Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) the only exceptions. So we have the foundations for a rural-urban divide and a Republican-Democratic divide.

There's also an industry-environmental divide as well. Opponents of Ballot Measure Two, who use the No On 2 website as their information clearinghouse, include an all-star lineup of industry advocates, to include the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, the Resource Development Council, and the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce among its power hitters. They say it could cause serious economic harm by overlaying state statutes with a needlessly complex regulatory regime. They also claim it is a poorly-drafted measure delegating too much authority to a handful of unelected Alaskans, and suggest that each coastal district may have the power to overlay state statutes relating to air, water, and land with more stringent standards than those required by either the State or Federal government.

But it's the Conservative Patriots Group which sums up the crux of the opposition the best. Most industry advocates do not oppose coastal management in principle; in fact, they say the previous coastal management scheme worked fine. But, in the words of CPG, "If we are to have an ACMP, let it be fashioned through the legislative process, where it can be openly debated and the citizens can have their input into shaping the final law and not by the initiative process where a few individuals decide what goes into the law. So what if it takes a couple of years for the legislature to come up with a good ACMP Plan? We need a well reasoned law, not one that is hurriedly passed and filled with onerous regulations and unintended consequences".

Considering that only a small number of voters will take the time to adequately research this measure, as well as the strengths and weaknesses put forth by both sides. I think the CPG has the better idea. Instead of a bunch of undereducated and easily impassioned voters voting for Bambi or Yogi Bear and passing this issue, let's have legislative action by those who take the time to research the complexities of the issue and know who to call upon to provide additional expertise.

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