Those hoping to restore the state’s Coastal Management program face the challenge of collecting nearly 26,000 signatures in barely more than a month
It’s a deadline that was made tighter when Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and other state officials used the full 60 days allowed under the law to review the “Alaska Sea Party’s” initiative petition before approving it Tuesday.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho is one of the local government leaders serving as a prime sponsor of the initiative.
Botelho, a former Alaska Attorney General, said he didn’t know why the state’s review took as long as it did.
“To us, it was a foregone conclusion,” he said.
The initiative measure, if it makes the ballot, would ask voters to resurrect a program that existed in the state for decades before ending on June 30 of this year when legislators were unable to agree on its renewal.
Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar said the state’s review needed the full 60 days. While the election review was done somewhat before the deadline, the legal review of the lengthy measure took all the time allotted, she said.
“The full 60 days allowed by law was required to give the bill the due diligence necessary,” she said.
The bill the voters may be asked to make state law contains numerous potential constitutional questions, and “numerous irregularities involving draftsmanship, inconsistencies and ambiguities in the bill itself,” she said.
The bill is 15 pages long, and contains 18 new statutory provisions, all of which needed to be analyzed by the Department of Law’s subject matter experts, Bakalar said.
The eventual conclusion was that it met constitutional requirements.
Botelho declined to say whether he thought state officials who opposed giving communities more say in development had intentionally delayed as long as possible.
“I have my own view,” he said. “I’ll not venture an opinion.”
An effort led by local communities, mostly coastal cities and boroughs in rural Alaska, is backing the initiative and Botelho said it will likely have to spend $150,000 to get signatures from across Alaska to get the measure on the ballot.
The fact that Alaska had an existing Coastal Management program until June 30 of this year didn’t mean that a new program modeled on it would automatically pass muster, Bakalar said.
She called the differences in the recently-ended program and the new program “significant.”
The initiative’s supporters have acknowledged that, saying it is modeled on the program before changes made under former Gov. Frank Murkowski took away much of local community input into development decisions.
Kodiak Mayor Jerome Selby said getting back that opportunity to influence decisions before they get made is what’s important. After decisions are made, lawsuits are often the only way to influence decisions, he said.
“We want to make sure Alaska’s people have that opportunity for input in a decision making process while that decision is being made,” he said.
The bill proposed by the Alaska Sea Party also does not include what’s know ad the “DEC carve-out,” holding for the state issues regulated by the Department of Environmental Conservation, that was included in the program after Murkowski’s action.
The reason the advocates of the Coastal Management Program are in a rush to gather their signatures is they want to qualify for the ballot before the Jan. 17 start of the legislative session.
If that happens, the Legislature can head off the need for a public vote by adopting a “substantially similar” bill on its own.
State elections officials said it would likely take about a week to get petition booklets and other materials prepared for the signature gathering effort.
That leaves the Sea Party with just about a month during holiday season to collect signatures from around the state.
It would have been “absolutely helpful” to get certification earlier, Botelho said.
“It’s a very short time period, every day matters,” he said.
Lt Gov. Mead Treadwell, who oversaw the process, was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.