In less than six weeks, Alaskans will lose their most "direct and important tool to influence federal activities" in the state, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Research Agency.
The report, released this week and included with a press release sent by Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), details the impacts the demise of the Alaska Coastal Management Program will have. The program is scheduled to sunset on June 30, unless quick action is taken by the Legislature and Governor.
Chief among the impacts are loss of "powerful influence" over federal decisions that affect Alaskans; loss of local input into state and federal land use decisions; loss of millions of dollars in federal funds; loss of many state and local jobs; and loss of a coordinated and streamlined permitting process that cuts through bureaucratic red tape for companies wanting to invest in Alaska.
"The report paints a dire picture," Sen. Wielechowski said today. "Many Alaskans are rightfully concerned about the heavy hand of the federal government in Alaska. Loss of this program will give the feds more authority to dictate what happens on our lands and waters, and it will throw roadblocks in front of companies wanting to do business in Alaska."
Sen. Wielechowski called on the Governor and fellow legislators to ensure that the program continues, providing Alaskans with an effective voice in what goes on in their own backyard and developers with efficient and fair review of their proposals.
Alaska has had a coastal management program since 1979. The program currently provides full or partial funding for 40-120 Alaskans around the state. Some are employed by local governments; others work for the departments of Fish and Game, Natural Resources, and Environmental Conservation. Many of their jobs will be eliminated if the program sunsets.
The report notes that 35 states are eligible to participate in the program. Alaska would be the only eligible state not to participate if no action is taken by June 30. One other state (Illinois) is in the process of developing its program.
Wielechowski noted that Alaska stands to lose more than $4 million next year, if the program goes away.
"This is money we could use to ensure that development proceeds in a responsible manner and that the feds consider Alaskans' interests rather than simply imposing their own will. Why would be walk away from a program like that?" he asked.
Wielechowski called on all parties to the debate on coastal management to rise above their differences and do what's best for Alaskans.