By Naomi Klouda
The Vote No On 2 group was a no-show at a public debate on Ballot Measure 2 at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College on Thursday, leaving Kenai Peninsula Assemblyman Bill Smith in the position of arguing their points against the measure.
Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson, ballot sponsor Mako Haggerty, Rep. Paul Seaton, and Smith fielded the discussion for a packed room. All of them are in favor of the measure, though Smith presented the opposition’s objections.
It wasn’t necessarily a debate, but the matter of why it might be important to re-establish the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program was thoroughly vetted.
“It felt like once people got informed, they clearly preferred Alaskans to have a voice in coastal decisions, and that just highlights the other side that is not working to educate, but to scare and confuse them,” Shavelson said.
The Vote No group has raised nearly $767,995.31, with its primary backers listed as Shell Oil, the Alaska Resource Development Council, ConocoPhillips and the Alaska Miners Association, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Meanwhile, the Alaska Sea Party, the measure’s proponent, is listed by APOC as having raised $63,688.86, of which 121 contributors gave $100 or less. To do public outreach, the Vote for the Coast people are “sharing” messages on Facebook with as many people as possible. One sharing featured three young women who work at Finn’s Pizza saying, “We would give the shirts off our back to have a voice in coastal decisions.” They are covered in the signs and little else. It was shared 4,000 times in a single day.
“We realized we needed to raise awareness on the campaign. Due to the fact that we are all grassroots, and funding was not readily available for advertising, we decided to use the Internet in the best way we could. So we Facebooked those photos to get some buzz going,” Haggerty said.
The initial contact with the Vote No on 2 group was made by Haggerty several weeks ago, inviting them to the debate. Haggerty was assured someone would represent the group. On Monday, when he called to check for last-minute details, he was told by Willis Lyford that they had no one to come to Homer and would have to decline. The public relations firm of Porcaro Communications is Lyford’s employer. It is the agency behind the ad campaign for Vote No on 2, and its official spokesperson.
“We had a packed schedule and you can only do what you can do,” Lyford said Friday. “We’ve been very busy these past few weeks with speaking engagements, and I had no one to send.”
Smith said that he wanted to represent the Vote No camp once he found there would be no representative at the table.
“I went to their website to get into the details of the ‘no’ position. But I didn’t feel it gave the specifics, like about why (CZMP) is called a ‘job killer.’ That was a weakness of their position when they don’t give specifics about how it kills jobs,” Smith said.
Nonetheless, Smith posed all the written arguments given by the group. He began the Thursday discussion with a history of the coastal management plans in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which has a 298-page CMP document. It was adopted by the borough in 1990, and guided all major developments on borough lands in the coastal zone. Only one project out of hundreds were found to be inconsistent and turned down through the process in the many years of its activity as a “hub” for development projects, involving resources. That one project was a proposal by Chevron to remove the boulders for building a dock from Boulder Point. The project was found to be nonconsistent in the CMP process when it came up for review, Smith said.
By the time Gov. Frank Murkowski wanted to update — some say, eviscerate — the program in 2003, all coastal zones had to rewrite their plans and they had to be approved by DNR, which would be in charge of all permitting. It took a few years to rewrite the program and it was sunset altogether on July 1, 2011. The new coastal plans that the borough had to rewrite could only reflect what DNR approved. There were no enforceable policies allowed for energy resources, only advisory ones. One of the issues that the Murkowski administration brought up was that the policies of the CMZPs weren’t all the same. For instance, Nome wouldn’t have the same issues as the peninsula. The CMZ said a company couldn’t do seismic work when salmon fry were in the stream, for example. Since they didn’t have that in a western Alaska CZMP, the state didn’t like it that the peninsula did, Smith said.
The new CMP puts authority back in to let the district have autonomy to decide its own needs.
Now, if someone were to go to Anchor Point and put in a breakwater and a dock, that is outside the purview of the borough’s CMP. Only the three areas that fall under permitting requirements in the borough would be up for public review — permits for flood plain development, gravel pits and anything within a 50-foot setback from salmon streams are up for public comments.
“Everything else is off the table,” Smith said.
Rep. Seaton said that when the legislation came up to keep the CMZP going, in 2011, the Resources Committee came up with the plan.
“It came to the floor as a bill with a lot of holes. But if the administration wanted to work with it, it could have been handled. That’s why I and the whole House voted for it. We made changes,” Seaton said. “It went into a conference committee. The big problem looked at was, ‘How much weight would local voice/local knowledge have?’ The attorney general testified if there were two scientific studies, one good and one bad, they would throw out the bad. But what if you had that bad study and local knowledge? Then the study would overshadow local knowledge. That was unacceptable and that is where that bill fell apart. How to get the balance between science and local knowledge? The state wanted a complete override by a study. Even a junior biologist’s notes or it could be a literature review by someone who never came to Alaska would take precedence. The governor said he would veto it. The House didn’t approve and it died.”
Shavelson said the idea behind enacting the Coastal Zone Management Act was to oversee orderly development along America’s coastline. The federal government enacted the program in 1972. Gov. Jay Hammond implemented it in Alaska in 1979. The program supplied money to the states to pay for offices and to help operate it.
“The other important thing was local control. At each level — federal, state and local — programs had to be consistent on all levels. In ours, (the local) voice was the borough. In not having the program, it severs the feds from us,” Shavelson said.
The program wasn’t an enforcement policy, he said. It was a public review system where a proposed project in the permitting stages would be looked at to see if it was consistent with what is allowed in the coastal zone, only in the permitting stages. It couldn’t go in after the fact and have a say over a hydro project or a bridge.
If the ballot measure passes, the borough planning commission doesn’t have to create a new bureaucracy to create a new program. It can resume the former model to some degree, he said.
Mako Haggerty, who also serves as a borough assemblyman, said he joined Bruce Botelho, Juneau’s mayor, and Mayor Jerome Selby, of Kodiak, in sponsoring the initiative. But he didn’t do it so that it could be put to a vote. He did it to force the Legislature to take a look at re-establishing CZM.
“But they didn’t do it. That’s why we’re here now,” Haggerty said.
The opposition says the measure is “complex.” It is, he admits, but, then, laws are complex because they need to spell out how a plan would be implemented.
There would be nine coastal districts, including Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna area as one of them, and each district would have nine members from its region.
“They would be picked by people like us. The governor would be given three names, submitted by us, and he would appoint one. Then the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Community and Economic Development would each have a commissioner on the board,” Haggerty said.
The program would be housed with CCED because they are not a permitting agency.
“The other three are all permitting agencies. It makes sense to give it to the objective one who doesn’t have a dog in the fight,” he said.
Once the plan is made, it must be approved by the state and federal governments.
The measure would not be a “job killer” any more than the CZMP of the past lost jobs, he said. Red Dog Mine, for instance, was permitted after being reviewed to see if it was consistent with that region’s CZMP.
A few elections ago, another Ballot Measure 2 dealing with discharges from cruise ships was also well-funded and opposed by powerful groups claiming it would kill jobs, Shavelson pointed out.
“We heard the same fear-mongering, that it would drive cruise ships from Alaska. It was the same type of language you’re seeing now. Nothing about what it is, just ‘Two, no.’ Get that in (voters’) heads,” Shavelson said.
That measure passed anyway, but an unhappy cruise ship industry went to the Legislature and got lawmakers to create stricter rules for citizen initiatives. That’s what Haggerty was up against in gaining the 30,000 signatures necessary in order to carry this measure to the ballot.
Shavelson said he wasn’t happy with the CZMP that is now being proposed. “I wanted even stronger local control. This is really a compromise,” he said.
When he started environmental advocacy work at Inletkeeper in 1996, a much stronger program was in effect, Shavelson said.
“A citizen was able to stand in the shoes of a local government and enforce the law. We used it against the Osprey platform in late ’90s. We said they shouldn’t be dumping toxic waste on our fisheries — we got an injunction and they stopped. Five days later they went to Juneau and they got the law changed. From that point on, it kneecapped a meaningful role of local communities.”
Even if the measure passes, there are three issues that the Legislature would need to fix in the current plan, Seaton told the group. One problem that needs to be fixed is limiting the “inland reach.” This means Fairbanks, for example, isn’t part of any coastal management zone.
Another issue is the time limit. There needs to be a timeline built into waiting for the consistency review to be finished. This would be a 30-day time limit for a minor permit and 50 days for a major project, Seaton said.
A third factor is third-party appeals. Only the local district, an agency or a project sponsor should be able to appeal a consistency review, Seaton said.
“Those three items will be taken care of in the Legislature,” he said.
As it is now, Alaska is the only state without a CZMP, though it has more coastline than any of the other parts of America. Even the Great Lakes has CZMPs.
For example, when Fish and Game was going to allow fish pens put in Halibut Cove, a lot of money was spent getting the project ready, Haggerty said. Cook Inlet Aquaculture was almost to the stage of putting it in when Kachemak Bay State Park’s board held a meeting and determined that is a nonpermitted use of park waters there.
“None of that lack of communication or charging ahead would have happened if we had CZM. Fish and Game had to eat humble pie on the thing. It cost a lot of money,” he said.
One of the arguments put out by the opponents of the measure is that it will create more bureaucracy. But pre-2003, all three agencies were available for reviewing projects, Haggerty said.
As it is now, anyone who has a project needs to go to several agencies for permits. Under the old system, they only had go to the CZM. There they would receive a checklist of questions to answer that then revealed what permits they would need. This can save companies money, he said.
Another myth put out by the Vote No is that not having a CMZ keeps the feds out of state business, Haggerty said. But the irony is that with this federal program, the feds have to ask locals what they think about a project under federal review for permitting, he said.
“In a way, both the Vote No people and we are saying the same thing. We don’t want the feds to take control away from us. They don’t want the feds to tell them what to do,” Haggerty said. “It’s confusing because locals get more power and industries have it easier too.”