by K.J. Lincoln
The leader of the health corporation for the Yukon Kuskokwim delta region, Dan Winkelman, and the heads of the tribal organization – the Association of Village Council Presidents, Vivian Korthuis, and AVCP Chairman Ray Watson addressed the Bethel City Council regarding issues surrounding alcohol and the dire effects that it has had on the people of this region.
During the January 9th, 2018 regular meeting of the Bethel City Council, Winkelman speaking during People to Be Heard on behalf of the YKHC Board of Directors, presented a letter to council regarding alcohol liquor license renewals.
“The communities that are surrounding Bethel are and have been very concerned about the sale of liquor. We all recognize it passed on a vote. What we are concerned about though are ways to help make our community better. Even though liquor is for sale here in Bethel it has had a negative effect on the villages that surround Bethel. We have extensive discussions about that every month with my board and the leadership. We are really just here to ask the council to start a discussion about ways to make a positive impact and not just to Bethel and our community here but also to start a conversation with village leadership with the villages that are being affected negatively with the liquor stores here in Bethel.
“We respectfully request that this city council look into starting that discussion with the liquor stores that are operating here. It is our belief that cheaper priced vodka and whiskeys are favored by bootleggers and public inebriates. These cheaper priced vodkas and whiskeys should be restricted from sale…that are negatively impacting the communities around Bethel.
“At the very least, if that is not possible, then at least restrict the quantity of those sales for those types of cheaper priced vodkas and whiskeys to individual customers. We respectfully request that in your renewal discussions that you think about that.
“I have a letter here that talks about the 32% increase in rise of our sobriety center usage in the last year. It is also my understanding that law enforcement and other social services in Bethel have seen increases as well. I read an article about the Bethel search and rescue and their increases and so, really ask you to start that discussion and I’d like to thank you for your time.”
Watson also spoke during People to Be Heard.
“I’m here for a couple reasons. One is to talk about the first item, which is the task force. And I support that because of what’s happening from the villages. We’re hearing a lot of negative impacts up and down the river here that are in close proximity because people are coming in buying and maybe not going home. Many times they are not going home. We always hear about this on the news unfortunately, we know this. All of us know this.
“The other item AVCP goes on record opposing any liquor license on behalf of our membership which is the 56 villages… It is really not only a Bethel problem, it is a village problem. AVCP has a lot of offices here, a lot of departments and pays taxes here. So we have an interest in this community, all of us. I’ve lived here for a long time, very long time and what I’ve seen prior is starting to happen again. We are experiencing the impacts to the native people. We see it almost every week something happens. We need to do something about it, thank you.”
Walter Jim, the Chairman for the Orutsararmiut Tribe also supported AVCP’s resolution to address alcohol issues.
Under special order of business, City council extended an invitation to AVCP to come and address their concerns presented in AVCP Resolution 17-09-03 dated September 2017 regarding the effect of alcohol in the region.
The resolution calls for the City of Bethel to form an Alcohol Task Force.
Ms. Korthuis reviewed the correspondence from AVCP to the city council. The three letters to the Bethel City council are dated June 6th, 2017; October 16th, 2017; and the latest December 15th, 2017.
The first letter calls upon the City to form an Alcohol Task Force which AVCP is willingly ready to join. The second letter asks the City to protest additional liquor licenses and to use the tax revenue to provide funding and support to alcohol abuse education and prevention, law enforcement and domestic violence awareness prevention efforts, and thirdly to help search and rescue efforts.
The third letter asks the City to protest the approval of the renewal application of Bethel Spirits LLC.
During the January 23rd, 2018 regular city council meeting, Mayor Robb presented the resolution he authored to form a community task force to provide advice on mitigation of alcohol problems.
Resolution 18-01 passed unanimously.
“Finding long-term solutions to problematic alcohol use is a community goal among many people,” states the resolution. “Problems include bootlegging, public inebriation, and crime.”
According to the resolution, the task force will be chaired by the Mayor or his designee and all city council members may participate in the task force. They City of Bethel will invite community members including, but not limited to: AVCP, Alaska State Troopers, Bethel Police, alcohol vendors, Tundra Womens Coalition, Bethel Search and Rescue, and others to participate.
The task force will meet at least monthly. It will dissolve one year after inception unless re-authorized by the Bethel City Council. The task force may make recommendations, but has no authority to dictate to the City of Bethel.
And, Bethel City Council members will not make any binding commitments for the City of Bethel at this task force; any council actions will need to be at a regular or special meeting.