Petition drive nets 30,000 signatures

Organizers of a citizen’s ballot initiative to restore Alaska’s coastal management program have well over the number of signatures required to put it on the statewide ballot.

“We’ve exceeded 30,000 and in terms of overall numbers it’s approaching my level of comfort,” Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho says.

Twenty-six thousand are required. Volunteers started gathering signatures less than a month ago. The signatures must be filed with the Alaska Division of Elections today.

Botelho says volunteers stopped the petition drive at 6 p.m. Monday to determine if they have the required district distribution, which is 7 percent of registered voters who voted in the last election in each of 30 of 40 house districts.

Botelho and Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby are among several local officials who formed the Alaska Sea Party to bring back a coastal management program. The Parnell administration shut down the program last summer, after the legislature and governor’s office failed to reach a compromise to renew it.

Sea Party organizers will hold a news conference today to update the initiative’s progress.

If the Legislature enacts substantially similar legislation this session, the initiative would not appear on the statewide ballot this fall.

Juneau Representative Beth Kerttula believes the Legislature will take it up. She says collecting more than 26,000 signatures in record time is a powerful message.

“Legislators will sit up and take notice that the state’s pretty much spoken on it and we need to get back to work and get our program back,” she says. “We lost it by one vote last session and now we’re the only coastal state in the union not to have a coastal zone program.”

Alaska has nearly 40 percent of the entire coastline of the United States and has no program to coordinate management.