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Sea Party hopes to turn in petitions today

If successful, restoration of Coastal Management would face Legislature, voters

Posted: January 17, 2012 - 12:03am

The initiative campaign to restore a local say in Coastal Management is going down to the wire, but the Alaska Sea Party hopes to be able to turn in sufficient signatures to elections officials this morning, initiative leaders said Monday.

“It’s been a pretty phenomenal effort and we’re feeling pretty confident,” said Chris Ashenbrenner, coordinator for the initiative campaign.

“We’re not yet to the point where we can say ‘stick a fork in it, it’s done,’” she said.

She said the campaign to put the restoration of Coastal Management on the ballot hopes to have enough signatures collected to submit to the state Division of Elections before the Legislature convenes today. If they do, the Legislature will either have to create a similar program on its own giving local communities a say in managing the oceans and coasts, or the voters will be asked in the fall whether they want the program created.

Alaska had such a program for decades, but it ended June 30, 2011 when the Legislature and governor could not agree on its renewal.

To force an election, the Alaska Sea Party needed to collect 26,000 valid signatures. They’re already over that amount, but party chair Bruce Botelho, who also serves as Juneau’s mayor, said they need about a 30 percent margin for error.

As of early Monday evening, that count stood at 29,726, but with more signatures in the process of being delivered.

In hard-to-reach coastal districts, the Alaska Sea Party used a volunteer effort. In the Southeastern, western and northern areas that make up House Districts 1-5 and 35-40, the minimum number of signatures has been reached, Ashenbrenner said. The petition needs a certain number of signers in at least 30 of Alaska’s 40 House districts, according to state law.

Paid signature gatherers were used in the Railbelt, which included the population centers of Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough and Fairbanks.

Signatures there have been fairly evenly spread there, but gatherers have been re-deployed to the areas where they might be light, she said.

Botelho himself was gathering signatures at the Huffman Safeway, she said.

The strong collection effort came despite a short timeframe, she said. They only received the petition booklets from the state on the afternoon of Dec. 22, with holidays and some brutal weather playing havoc with signature gathering.

“They had an epic snowstorm in Cordova,” she said. “They were literally buried and didn’t even get a chance to start gathering signatures until a few days ago.”

State elections officials have been told to tentatively expect the signature booklets to be turned in this morning in Anchorage, but Ashenbrenner said the final decision to do that wouldn’t be made until late Monday night when the last counts are done.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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