The statewide signature gathering effort for a ballot measure resurrecting Alaska’s Coastal Management program got a boost last week with an endorsement from the Alaska Federation of Natives during the influential organization’s convention in Anchorage.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, one of the initiative’s sponsors, welcomed the unanimous endorsement, saying it would play a key role in the upcoming signature gathering effort.
“AFN is truly the largest, strongest voice for Alaska Native interest, sending a strong message of support, particularly from coastal regions,” he said.
Alaska’s Coastal Management effort ended on June 30, after having been in effect for more than three decades in Alaska. All other ocean and Great Lakes states have such programs, giving the states a say in federal actions that affect them.
The program’s renewal died despite attempts from coastal legislators to strengthen and renew it.
Gov. Sean Parnell and industry advocates, who accused local communities of seeking “veto” power over projects, opposed that and the regular legislative session, along with two special sessions, ended without renewal.
North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta said Alaska needs to bring Coastal Management back.
“Coastal management never stopped a project in the past. It just gave communities a stake in the project. What’s not to like about that?” he said, according to information provided by the initiative sponsors.
The Office of the Lieutenant Governor has until Dec. 6 to approve or deny the petition. If it is approved for signature gathering, Botelho and other supporters from local governments in Kodiak, Bethel, Kenai and elsewhere will begin to collect 27,000 signatures, which they hope to accomplish by Jan. 17.
The signatures must be collected in 30 of the state’s 40 legislative districts, which is why the support from the statewide AFN is important, Botelho said.
If valid signatures are collected by that deadline, and the Alaska Legislature fails to create a new Coastal Management program in next year’s session, voters will be asked during a statewide election to create one.
Itta said Coastal Management program, however it is created, would require federal agencies to listen to Alaska’s communities before taking coastal actions that affect them.
“The big resource development projects are in rural Alaska, and rural communities are generally strong supporters of these projects,” Itta said. “If we work together early in the process, the chances of a timely and successful start are much better than if local people are just left out in the cold.”
Botelho said fundraising for the initiative has only just begun, but he hoped to be able to hire professional signature gatherers to help with the process.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.