Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205
03/09/2006 01:30 PM TRANSPORTATION
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SB 271-AUTHORIZE HWY PROGRAM PARTICIPATION CHAIR HUGGINS announced SB 271 to be up for discussion. MIKE BARTON, Commissioner, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOTPF), emphasized the importance of SB 271 that gives the state the ability to assume National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) responsibilities for the Federal Highway Administration. This is a pilot project that is being offered to only four or five other states and probably the 45 other states would like to have it. It rounds out the state's roll in NEPA and is akin to the state assuming fisheries management. He said that Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would assume management of National Pollutant Discharge System (NPDS) permits. The fiscal note was on the order of half a million dollars, but he felt that it would be more expensive to not do it and felt that Alaska would be better served and perhaps even get some projects out a little sooner. 1:40:30 PM CHAIR HUGGINS said Alaska is one of five states that are part of the pilot program - California, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Texas, are the others. The program expires on August 10, 2011, and he asked if he thought it would be self-perpetuating. COMMISSIONER BARTON responded that 2011 is when the next highway reauthorization would occur and he thought all states would get this opportunity at that time. CHAIR HUGGINS said the state may not submit its application until rule-making is complete and that has yet to be accomplished. COMMISSIONER BARTON replied that was correct. Federal Highways was given nine months to put the rules together. 1:42:00 PM SENATOR KOOKESH asked how far behind they are. COMMISSIONER BARTON said that Federal Highways anticipates a July/August timeframe. CHAIR HUGGINS said he thought it would be reasonable to assume that would bite into the pilot time. SENATOR FRENCH asked if the state would take over all federal highway projects during the pilot program. COMMISSIONER BARTON answered that the program is structured so a state could choose to apply it selectively, but it was his intent to assume it for everything. 1:42:59 PM SENATOR FRENCH asked for a legal opinion as to whether Section 1, on page 1, line 7, should be read as "must" rather than "may" in reference to the Attorney General waiving immunity. He thought the state had to waive immunity if it assumed a project. PETER PUTZIER, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Transportation Section, Civil Division, Department of Law, answered that there is a potential separation-of-powers issue. The Legislature couldn't direct the Attorney General to waive immunity. Before the state can assume duties, by subsequent memorandum, the Attorney General would have to weigh in on a project-specific basis. 1:44:40 PM SENATOR FRENCH asked if this is part of a six-year pilot project. COMMISSIONER BARTON replied yes and part of it has already passed. SENATOR FRENCH asked if worse comes to worse and it doesn't work, is there a mechanism by which the state can go back to the way it was before. COMMISSIONER BARTON replied that he didn't anticipate this being a train wreck; rather he thought it was a golden opportunity for the state. He was sure there was some escape mechanism if it was really needed. SENATOR FRENCH opined that the state could at least consider finishing its ongoing projects and just not take over any more. COMMISSIONER BARTON agreed that was one escape mechanism. 1:45:45 PM CHAIR HUGGINS said this really allows the state to take control of its own destiny. COMMISSIONER BARTON concurred. 1:46:09 PM SENATOR FRENCH moved to report SB 271 from committee with individual recommendations. Without objection, SB 271 was reported from the Senate Transportation Standing Committee.