Ordinance prohibiting sales of hard liquor up for public hearing

by K.J. Lincoln

The Bethel City Council voted to introduce an ordinance that would amend the Bethel Municipal Code to prohibit the sale of alcohol with an alcohol by volume percentage higher than 20% in the City of Bethel.
The City Council believes that by prohibiting the purchase of alcohol with an ABV (alcohol by volume) higher than 20%, the negative effects associated with alcohol will be reduced, according to proposed Ordinance 18-10.
Ordinance 18-10 passed introduction during the May 8th, 2018 regular city council meeting by a 4-2 vote. Voting yea were Vice Mayor Fred Watson and council members Mark Springer, Mitchell Forbes, and the sponsor of the ordinance, Leif Albertson.
Voting nay were Mayor Rick Robb and council member R. Thor Williams.
“State law provides the City authority to regulate alcohol sales within the City’s jurisdiction and the Bethel City Council finds it necessary to do so to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and its related harms,” states 18-10. “In the YK Delta it is widely understood that alcoholic beverages with an Alcohol by Volume (ABV) above 20% (hard liquor) are the primary types of alcohol associated with public intoxication, ambulance and police responses, Search and Rescue missions, bootlegging and crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The Public Hearing will be held during the May 22nd, 2018 regular meeting. If it passes in its current form, people will still be able to make alcohol orders. It will not prevent people residing in Bethel from submitting written orders to vendors in Anchorage to purchase alcohol containing ABV of 21% or higher.
“When we look at the alcohol problems that we have in the community they are driven by cheap hard liquor,” said Albertson who is also a first responder medic. “We have heard from Search and Rescue…we have heard from TWC (Tundra Women’s Coalition)…we’ve heard about bootlegging that is going on with high concentration alcohol. Certainly that has been the case on our ambulance.”
The ordinance states – Alaska Administrative Code (AAC) 304.645: Written orders for alcoholic beverages; other transporting of alcohol beverages; local governing body authority – would require a package store licensee who sells alcoholic beverages in response to a written order to provide notice to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board of any customer who engages in a regular practice of ordering large quantities of alcoholic beverages.
“These written order requirements should reduce the number of people able to access hard alcohol and would provide the State with a mechanism to better track high quantity purchases to better identify who is engaging in illegal sales,” it continues.
People residing in a community that has restricted the sale, importation, or possession of alcoholic beverages would not be able to place an order through a vendor in Anchorage.
This ordinance allows the City to be able to uphold the decision of the voters while still establishing a certain amount of control over the distribution of hard liquor in the community and in the region.
Council member Williams said that he does not support introduction.
“I am not in support of this introduction because it says back to the community that the City of Bethel is for bootlegging again. That’s all this is going to do because the majority of the people that drink in our community drink hard alcohol. The reason that we went wet was to deal with bootlegging. Promoting bootlegging, this is all this ordinance does. If you want liquor in your community you should allow the customer to have what liquor they want…I am not in favor of this because I am not in support of bootlegging and this ordinance supports bootlegging in Bethel, thank you,” Williams said.