By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) â¿¿ The Alaska House has passed a measure that critics say could hurt public participation in state permitting decisions.
The 23-14 vote late Monday followed debate on water rights and whether to amend the bill to allow Native entities to apply for water reservations, along with federal or state agencies and political subdivisions.
The vote on that amendment was tied at 18-18, with Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, seemingly agonizing over how to cast her vote. The House took a short break, and when the vote was held on the amendment again, Wilson was no longer a deciding vote but part of the majority in voting against the amendment.HB77, from Gov. Sean Parnell, is aimed at improving the permitting process in Alaska and seeks to build upon efforts in recent years to make the process more efficient. The measure is extensive, dealing with issues such as land exchanges and permitting procedures. The more controversial provisions include limiting administrative appeals to those "substantially and adversely affected" by a decision and who "meaningfully participated" in the public comment process. The measure also would remove the ability of individuals or groups to apply for water reservations, to maintain or protect certain water levels for purposes like fish habitat protection, recreation and water quality. Parnell, in his transmittal letter, said an efficient permitting process with clear rules "contributes to Alaskan economic growth and creates more Alaskan business opportunities." Critics fear the measure is geared toward blocking opposition to projects like the proposed Pebble Mine or the proposed Chuitna coal-mining project. Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, pointed to a document from the Department of Natural Resources that showed that of the 35 pending water reservation applicants from individuals or groups, 22 are in the vicinity of or could affect the Pebble project. Three applications could affect the coal project. Applications date to 1992, though most are more recent.