Since announcing he and two other officials would seek to petition the state to re-enact a statewide coastal zone management program, Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Mako Haggerty said local interest around the issue has swelled.
Many residents, Haggerty said, have expressed frustration with the Legislature for letting the coastal zone management plan expire earlier this year, despite some lawmakers’ attempts to save it.
“I have got people standing in line down there ready and waiting and willing and excited to go out and collect signatures,” he said. “It is interesting to me that it does span the political spectrum.
“You’ve got people on all sides of this issue that are pretty unhappy that this program went away. But they are real happy we are bringing it back and many of them say the plan we are bringing back is better than the one we just lost.”
Currently, the initiative petition to place a ballot measure before voters in the 2012 general election is waiting for a decision from Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Haggerty said Treadwell has 60 days to make a decision on such proposals.
“The conventional wisdom is that it always takes the full 60 days for it to come off the Lt. Governor’s desk,” he said. “That’s conventional wisdom, but that doesn’t mean that’s the way it always has to be.”
If Treadwell takes the full 60 days to make a decision, that would keep Haggerty and others waiting until early December for an answer, leaving a little more than a month to gather the about 27,000 signatures the group wants to before the start of the legislative session on Jan. 17.
He said gathering that many signatures in that amount of time hasn’t ever been done.
The group would be “breaking records” if they did so, which Haggerty thinks is a message the Legislature should “hear loud and clear,” he said.
“It has never been done before, but we feel undaunted by it, that it is a reachable amount,” he said.
If the group isn’t able to gather the thousands of signatures it needs if the initiative is approved, Haggerty said the three initiative leaders — including Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby — would likely lobby the legislature to re-enact it with legislation.
But, such pleas might “fall of deaf ears,” he said.
“It is hard to beat them over the head with a bat if you don’t have the bat,” he said.
However, Haggerty hoped it wouldn’t reach that point. He hopes legislators take notice and introduce a coastal zone management plan similar to the one developed for the ballot initiative.
“And that they pick this up and run with it — that is exactly what we would like to see,” he said. “But because we have a bill already written up and an initiative that’s already drawn up, we can compare what the legislature comes up with to what we have.
“If they don’t come up with something with some teeth in it, or with the specifics that we have in ours, we can just tell them, ‘This is unacceptable and we are going to go ahead with the citizen initiative.’”
Haggerty said the “teeth” he referred to include local knowledge being taken into consideration.
“For instance, if there is going to be a development in a particular area that the locals feel is sensitive, they want to be able to weigh in on that and be heard and have that carry some weight,” he said.
He also estimated the program would garner support from multiple sides of the issue.
“Even the pro-development people will be in favor of this thing when they see that it streamlines the permitting process and so it is like one stop shopping,” he said. “The way it is set up now, they have got to go everywhere to get permits to do whatever projects. This would make it all one stop.”
According to documents found on AlaskaSeaParty.org, the initiative’s web presence, the coastal management program being proposed would give the state the “strongest tool to influence federal environmental decisions,” promote economic development, streamline permitting times, set up a 13-person coastal policy board with nine members representing coastal districts that include cities boroughs and four coastal resource service areas.
For more information on the Alaska Coastal Management Program Initiative program, or to get involved, visit www.alaskaseaparty.org.