[Photo courtesy of ZD Roberts, staff photographer]
On Thursday night, the Alaska Sea Party kicked off its Juneau volunteer coordination drive for “Yes” on Ballot Measure 2, more formally titled “An Act establishing the Alaska Coastal Management Program”. The measure is actually an attempt to restore a previous state program, one that stood for nearly 30 years but failed to be reenacted during the first session of the Twenty-Seventh Legislature.
The program has historically been a means for facilitating coastal development between industry and state and federal permitting agencies while also providing local voices an opportunity to have input in where and how such development occurs. With the loss of the program, Alaska became the only state in the Union to not have such an intermediary agreement with the federal government. This is occurring in a state that contains approximately 34,000 miles of coastline (over a third of the U.S total) and is responsible for roughly 40 percent of U.S seafood production, not to mention oil and gas development (Alaska represents about 14% of all annual US oil production), coastal trade, etc.
In Wally Hickel’s “Owner State” of Alaska, the economy is driven almost entirely by resource extraction and government support agencies. Many of these agencies exist under the prime directive to develop Alaska’s resources to the benefit of all Alaskan’s. Its mind blowing that such a crucial program could ever fall through the cracks to begin with, and yet it has (another article for another time). Fortunately Alaska’s political heritage runs deep with threads of Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of direct democracy, allowing the common citizenry a chance to respond when elected officials fail. Alaskan’s have already spoken out rather loudly on the issue; it only took two weeks to collect the signatures necessary to list get the initiative on the ballot.
The work, however, is far from over. Just this last week an opposition party was formally organized and registered. This party, spearheaded by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Rural Development Council, has already begun to spread a carefully crafted message designed to cast doubt on the outcome of such a measure. It’s a message of fear and political buzzwords; nasty ones like “big government”, “legal uncertainty and needless litigation”, and “real economic consequences”. It offers no evidence to support such claims yet promises economic demise in no uncertain terms.
The reality is much more modest. The Coastal Management Program has, and would continue to be, a clearinghouse of sorts for those looking for permits required for coastal development projects. Think of it as a one-stop shopping experience. It doesn’t add any additional permitting. It simply makes it easier for someone to get information on which permits are needed for specific projects. For large scale industry, this is hardly a problem; they can afford to employ permitting experts who know the bureaucratic rigmarole. Having a central source of information simply helps local businesses and entrepreneurs do their homework in one easy location.
In contrast to the “doom and gloom” message of the “No on 2” propaganda, tonight’s open house was a message of community and hope. Roughly 20 people attended the event and speeches were given by Co-Chair Bruce Botelho and House Minority Leader Beth Kertulla (D-Juneau), who authored the House Bill that would have continued the program had it not failed by one vote. Supporters discussed how the bill was actually a solution to “Top Down” government approaches, providing communities and the state
with better tools to engage in the development process, and that it fell in line with the entire purpose of statehood, that of developing Alaska’s resources by Alaskans, and not outside interests.
In order for this campaign to succeed, Alaskan’s will need to educate themselves and their neighbors on the difference between facts and fears. It will take a lot of volunteer hours and financial contributions. Botelho stated that he was told that an “ideal” financial goal for a state wide initiative was $500,000 but that $400,000 was probably a better reality. Whatever the “Yes” crowd raises, it will be a small price to pay for ensuring that Alaskan’s continue to have local say and ease of access to permits for developing resources that belong to us. You can be damn well sure it’ll be a drop in the bucket compared to what AOGA and the Rural Development Council will raise, and while “money can’t buy you love”, the same can’t be said for elections.
So what can you do to help? With Juneau having no contested races this go around, getting out the vote will be crucial. If you’re in Juneau, stop by the campaign office and sign up to volunteer. It’s located in the second story of the Wells Fargo building downtown (217 Second St), Room 200. You can also call them at (907) 500-7925, or check out their website. Anchorage and Fairbanks should be getting contact information soon.