City takes neutral position on coastal zone initiative
Heidi Zemach | For the LOG
The Seward City Council and attorney Cheryl Brooking, foreground, discuss Ballot Measure 2, the Coastal Management Plan initiative.
The Seward City Council has elected to stay neutral on the new Alaska Coastal Management program initiative, known as Ballot Measure Number 2 on the Aug. 28 state primary election ballot. The decision came out of a recent work-session on the topic that was meant to provide reliable information to the council members upon which to base a decision. But, after researching the matter, Assistant City Manager Ron Long recommended that they leave it for voters to decide, rather than the city taking a position. Long said he had unearthed so much information on both sides of the topic, some of it misleading or contradictory, that it was difficult to determine the truth in what the program actually would mean. Long wondered whether voters would actually read the 15-page ballot language before making their vote.
City Manager Jim Hunt agreed, saying he had grave concerns about even the appearance of the city taking a position on this relatively divisive issue. He said the city’s decision might be taken the wrong way by voters who felt otherwise, or that it might even conflict with the Coastal Village’s plans to move to Seward, which is a subject always on his mind these days.
Ballot Measure Number 2, depending upon the point of view, can be seen either as an attempt to give residents of coastal zones a clear voice in development projects that need federal permits, or a large new bureaucracy that could kill, or hinder development and jobs in Alaska, as one Alaska reporter summarized it. It would restore Alaska’s recently-lapsed Coastal Management Program. The program, pending federal certification, allows localities to have a seat at the table as decisions are made about projects slated for federal land or waters in their areas. Most agree that federal decision makers, living far away from Alaska, should not be making those important decisions without the perspective of those that live here.
Seward’s Sue McClure, the East Peninsula assembly representative to the Kenai Peninsula Borough, along with citizen Jim Herbert, helped collect 216 signatures in Seward this winter for the petition drive that put the proposition on the ballot. McClure spent hours reading about it, but said she still can not make up her mind on how to vote on it. The borough assembly has not been asked to take a position, probably because its members would split down the middle on the issue, she said.
Skip Reierson, the Seward Chamber of Commerce’s representative on the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce explained his group’s opposition to the initiative. “From the state chamber’s position, this piece of legislation creates more questions than it does answers,” he said. Various members are gravely concerned it would create a new bureaucracy that would encumber development in areas such as mining and fishing, oil and gas development in coastal areas, and potentially even development of the Seward Marine Industrial Center, SMIC basin,” he said.
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Skip Rieirson, Seward Chamber of Commerce representative to the Alaska State Chamber, addresses the city council during their work session on Ballot Measure 2, the Coastal Management Plan initiative. Assistant City Manager Ron Long, middle, and City Manager Jim Hunt also made a presentation.
Seward Mayor David Seaward supports the initiative, as did former Mayor Willard Dunham. Seaward said he does so because Seward is primarily a fishing town, unlike communities on the other side of the peninsula, where an oil and gas are booming. Seaward said leaders in other coastal fishing towns support it, such as Homer and Kodiak. Rep. Paul Seaton, (of Homer) who represented the Seward area in House District 35 (with redistricting, Seaton was moved to House District 30 ) supports it, as does Alaska Senate President Gary Stevens, of Kodiak, another former representative of the East Peninsula with redistricting.
Other council members were quick to respond that incoming representatives under redistricting Sen. Cathy Giessel, if she wins her election bid, and Alaska Speaker of the House, Mike Chenault, of Nikiski, may not, however.
Council members Jean Bardarson, Vanta Shafer, Ristine Casagranda, Bob Valdatta and Christy Terry all favored the council taking no position, and letting the voters’ decide.
Seward has too much to loose by taking a stand, Terry said. All attendees appeared relieved by the argument that regardless of what the voters decide on Aug. 28, the details of the plan still can be re-worked by the Alaska legislature.