- Associated Press - Thursday, January 16, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A Soldotna legislator on Thursday said he has asked that a controversial permitting bill be sent to the Senate Resources Committee for further review when the Legislature reconvenes.

Sen. Peter Micciche, who held community meetings on HB77 last month, said his constituency does not support the bill in its current form.

The measure from Gov. Sean Parnell was billed as a way to improve the permitting process. But critics say it could hurt the public’s ability to participate in permitting decisions and give the Natural Resources commissioner too much power.

On Thursday, it was announced that about 30 tribes and Native communities had delivered resolutions to Parnell’s office opposing HB77.

“I believe that this bill is so flawed that it would be very dangerous for us to try to fix,” Dorothy B. Larson, tribal administrator of Curyung Tribal Council, told reporters during a conference call. “I think we need to scrap it.”

Nearly all the resolutions were passed following the last session. Lisa Wade, a member of the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, said more resolutions are being considered.

The bill is expansive, touching on issues like land exchanges and permitting procedures. Among its more controversial provisions, it would limit administrative appeals to people “substantially and adversely affected” by a decision, who “meaningfully participated” in the public comment process. It would remove the ability of individuals or groups to apply for water reservations to maintain or protect certain water levels for things like protecting fish habitat, recreation and water quality.

And it allows the Natural Resources commissioner to issue general permits if the commissioner finds the activity is unlikely to cause “significant and irreparable harm” to state land or resources. General permits would not be applicable to lands designated for game refuges, forestry, state parks or coal mining and reclamation, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The bill passed the House but was never brought to a floor vote in the Senate because it lacked sufficient support to move forward.

Wade said there should be public input into whatever is proposed.

“This was very top-down delivered, and I think the outcome of that has been pretty clear. The public wants to be part of this process,” she said.

Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said by email that HB77 is part of a multi-year effort to make the state’s permitting system “more timely, predictable, and efficient, while safeguarding the environment.”

She said the Department of Natural Resources has been listening to Alaskans concerned about the bill. She also said Parnell “appreciates the public participation and looks forward to working with the Legislature to address those concerns.”

Micciche said during his community meetings, he was struck by comments from a woman who said the bill made it seem like the public was an obstacle in the process.

He said he supports responsible development and wants efficient permitting. But he said he also wants to ensure there’s a balance where Alaskans are heard.

He said it seemed like he had the support to have the bill moved back to Senate Resources, a panel on which he sits.

According to the Legislature’s website, HB77 was referred to and heard by the House Resources and Senate Finance committees last session.

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