Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said Wednesday evening that the Coastal Management petition would qualify for the ballot later this year.
Supporters of the program said they hoped that would spur the Legislature to adopt its own Coastal Management program and speed the way to bringing it back to Alaska.
“I hope the Legislature will make this part of their end-of-session package” of bills that pass, said Bruce Botelho, chair of the Alaska Sea Party and mayor of Juneau.
The prospects of such a bill have been the subject of high-level, closed-door talks, but no agreement on how the issue should be dealt with has yet emerged.
Sea Party supporter Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said other legislators have told her that if the measure did qualify for the ballot, there would be legislation introduced.
“And if they don’t, it’s on the ballot anyway,” Kerttula said.
The Alaska Sea Party needed to obtain 25,875 signatures to qualify for the ballot. The state Division of Elections, overseen by Treadwell, has been counting signatures and ensuring they’re from registered voters since the petitions were turned in Jan. 17.
Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said the count will continue until all of the 33,265 signatures collected are checked, a process that may take another two weeks.
Kerttula praised the rapid count, which she said would give the Legislature time to act before the end of the session.
If the Legislature ends the 90-day session on schedule, the initiative is slated for the primary election ballot, but if the session is extended it may be pushed to the November general election.
The Legislature can also head off an election by creating a “substantially similar” Coastal Management program on its own.
That might give opponents of giving local communities more say in development an opportunity to adopt a more modest program than the initiative calls for.
Legislative Legal Services Director Doug Gardner said they might have some leeway to do that, because the more complex an initiative is the more latitude courts are likely to give the Legislature in deciding what is “substantially similar.”
“The court would likely look at it as a fairly complex matter,” Gardner said.
The state’s previous Coastal Management Program ended on June 30 of last year when the House and Senate could not reach an agreement on renewing it, despite two special sessions called to address the topic.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.