State agency seizes political campaign signs in Anchorage

ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Alaska Department of Transportation seized several political campaign signs last week in Anchorage, sparking protests and outrage from candidates and campaign officials.

The signs were illegally placed along state roads and causing safety hazards for drivers, transportation officials said.

But state inventory indicates no signs for Gov. Bill Walker were seized in the sweep, leaving some political figures questioning the timing, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Walker is up for re-election this fall, and the Alaska primary election will be held Aug. 21.

The Walker campaign said it received no advance notice or special treatment but spotted orange tags on the signs and reacted quickly to move them.

Department of Transportation spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said the sweep was motivated by a proliferation of illegal signs on state roads, despite state and federal laws against outdoor advertising in Alaska.

Because of budget cuts, those laws have been little enforced in recent years, though sweeps used to happen more regularly, McCarthy said.

The state sent a letter to candidates in the spring about right-of-way laws, McCarthy said.

On July 25, Department of Transportation workers placed orange tags on 200 to 250 signs placed illegally in the state right-of-way across Anchorage, McCarthy said.

Of those, about 50 posed “immediate safety concerns,” according to McCarthy.

Campaigns were given five days to move the signs, and many did, McCarthy said.

On private property within 660 feet (about 200 meters) of the nearest edge of the right-of-way, signs can’t be installed or positioned so the message can be read from the state roadway, said Heather Fair, the state right-of-way enforcement chief.

Fair said that’s an uncomfortable part of the law to enforce, and Department of Transportation generally sends a letter to the property owner and asks them to remove problem signs voluntarily. Most comply, she said.

On July 30, transportation workers picked up the 30 remaining campaign signs in Anchorage that the department had labeled as safety hazards.

It cost the state $3,600 to do the removals, said Tom Grman, Department of Transportation superintendent for Anchorage maintenance.

In all, DOT collected 28 signs from 14 Republican candidates and seven signs from four Democratic candidates, according to an inventory requested by Anchorage Daily News.

McCarthy said she understands candidates feel pressure to get their name out and compete for recognition.

But this summer, she said, the state felt it had to intervene

“We just got to a tipping point where we really had to let the candidates know we would be going out there,” McCarthy said.