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Bethel City Council Protests Tundra Liquor Cache And AC Liquor License Applications

Eighteen packs of beer lined a shelf at the opening of Bethel Native Corporation's Bethel Spirits Liquor Store on on Sept. 27, 2016. The store has only operated for 30 days since its opening.
Dean Swope

The Bethel City Council has protested two more liquor license applications. On Tuesday, the Council unanimously opposed proposals from the Tundra Liquor Cache and the Alaska Commercial Company to open liquor stores in Bethel.

The Council listed two reasons for protesting the Tundra Liquor Cache, Steve Chung’s proposal to convert his auto shop on Hoffman Road into a liquor store. First, the Council said that the store could increase traffic in the area and endanger pedestrians. Second, the site has not received the required permit from the city to open a liquor store. The city Planning Commission is meeting Thursday to review the traffic patterns and consider issuing the required permit.

Should the Council ever choose to not protest an application, Chung urged that it be from someone local, like himself.

“I ask that in some ways you guys would support somebody who actually lives here, ensuring that some of that money stays here,” said Chung.

The Council had a number of reasons for protesting the Alaska Commercial Company’s proposal to open a liquor store on Bridge Avenue near Brown’s Slough. The business has not completed an application to receive the required city permit or a Fire Marshal plan. Another reason cited was that intoxicated people are already found nearby at the small boat harbor every day during the summer. Over the last year, police responded to 99 calls around the site, nearly a third of which involved alcohol, a number Council Member Leif Albertson, who drafted the protest, called “excessive.”

But the main reason for opposing AC’s proposal was because of a clerical error. The Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board sent the city notice of the application a month late, reducing the amount of time the city has to review the application and the time citizens have to comment on it by 29 days. 

“I’m asking the ABC Board to not grant the license until we’ve had our full time to go through our complete and thorough process and to give the people of Bethel the opportunity evaluate this completely," said Council Member Albertson.

Additionally, Bethel only receives three liquor store licenses and AC already holds one of those. The Council does not support the company holding two.

Protesting the liquor license applications drew support from community members attending the meeting. Eileen Arnold, Executive Director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition, said that the number of sexual assaults they have responded to has gone up since the liquor store opened. She said that if the trend continues, they will see a 25 percent increase in sexual assaults this fiscal year as compared to last year.

“Alcohol does not cause violent crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, but there’s a terribly unhealthy relationship between alcohol and violent crimes," said Arnold. "Alcohol adds fuel to the fire. It makes an unhealthy relationship volatile, and it makes a volatile relationship lethal.”

The Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will consider issuing Bethel’s third and final liquor store license on April 6 to the Tundra Liquor Cache, the Alaska Commercial Company, or an application from Cezary Maczynski for Kusko Liquor. The Council has protested all of them and voted to send City Attorney Patty Burley and Council Member Leif Albertson to represent the City at the ABC Board meeting in Anchorage.

The City Council did some other business as well Tuesday night. It approved a bid to rebuild the Bethel Port Building, increased ambulance service fees, and gave City Clerk Lori Strickler a three percent raise.

Finally, Stacey Reardon, Director of the Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center, also known as the Bethel pool, delivered this news to the Council:

“The last burning question I know is on everyone’s minds, ‘What about the jets in the hot tub?’ Hopefully, barring any problems, we’ll be getting those fixed on Monday and they’ll be back up and running for Tuesday.”

Also, 11 to 15 year olds can now swim at the pool without adult supervision if they have passed a swim test and hold a signed waiver from a parent or guardian.

Anna Rose MacArthur is the KYUK News Director. She has worked at KYUK since 2015 and previously worked at KNOM in Nome, Alaska.