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Coastal Plan issue now shifts to Legislature

Signatures are submitted

Posted: January 18, 2012 - 1:01am

Triumphant Coastal Management advocates presented state officials with the required 26,000 signatures which, if found to be valid, are necessary to force a public vote on restoring the program the Legislature failed to renew last year.

The signature-gathering effort by the Alaska Sea Party went so well it also included an extra 8,000 signatures more than needed, and organizers said they believed they also met the minimum necessary valid signatures from 30 of the state’s 40 legislative districts.

Elections officials are expected to need the full 60 days to complete the verification process and began work immediately Tuesday, said Elections Director Gail Fenumiai.

“This has been an incredible volunteer effort,” said Mako Haggerty, a Kenai Peninsula Borough assemblyman who was one of the measure’s chief sponsors.

The submission of the nearly 24,000 signatures to the Division of Elections Tuesday morning before the convening of the legislative session shifts the issue of resurrecting the program to that body. It can head off a statewide vote establishing the program if it adopts a substantially similar program on its own.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and one of the legislative supporters of the program said the record speed with which the signatures were gathered shows the public support for the program.

“We should listen to what people have now told us,” she said.

She and other program supporters urged action, but some leaders, including in the Republican-led House of Representatives, said the issue may not be addressed soon, if at all.

“We have an initiative, we don’t know at this point in time how that’s going to fare, whether that initiative is going to be placed on the ballot,” said Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, a member of the House Majority Caucus, speaking alongside House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, at a Tuesday morning press conference.

Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, said there were “real questions” about the version of the Coastal Management Program the initiative would create, including its cost and the change in how it is handled administratively.

Supporters, though, urged quick action.

Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby said Coastal Management is a program the state needs, and that he’s already hearing from developers in the area it is being missed.

“Contractors and similar business people are already encountering difficulty in getting their federal permits due to the coordination that’s missing without Coastal Management,” said Selby at an Anchorage press conference with Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho after Alaska Sea Party leaders turned in their petitions.

The Coastal Management Program was created by Congress to give states and local governments more say in the actions of federal agencies. It has been a point of contention between Alaska state leaders, who wanted to keep that authority largely for the state, and local leaders who wanted a larger role for cities and boroughs.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, disputed the program’s benefits, saying she was hearing permits were still readily available for those who needed them even without Coastal Management.

“It’s going quite smoothly for them in terms of getting the necessary permits,” she said.

Elections officials are expected to need the full 60 days to complete the verification process and began work immediately Tuesday, said Elections Director Gail Fenumiai.

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

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