- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) - Bethel residents packed a City Council meeting to voice their opposition to plans to open the town’s only liquor store.

The council heard more than 3 1/2 hours of testimony Tuesday night. Many urged the council to consider the ramifications of selling alcohol in a region that struggles with the disproportionate effects of alcohol abuse and ensuing violence, Bethel radio station KYUK (https://is.gd/Tggimy) reported.

Corporation subsidiary Bethel Spirits LLC is in the process of applying for a license to put a liquor store in the facility that was recently vacated by the new Swanson’s grocery store after less than a year at the Native corporation’s new $20 million commercial building.

The application is expected to be submitted in April to the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Alaska Commercial Co. also is seeking an alcohol sales license for the remaining grocery store in Bethel.

Local governments can protest application to the ABC Board and, in certain cases, can prevent the issuance of a license.

Eva Malvich was among those testifying Tuesday night. Malvich, who has worked to organize the Bethel Winter House homeless shelter, said she has lost family to alcohol.

“If you had a liquor store here, could you imagine the impact it would have on the people here with the services you now offer? It cannot happen,” she said. “You cannot take care of the problem if it’s going to increase tenfold.”

BNC president and CEO Ana Hoffman made an economic case for the venture and asked the council for its support.

“Bethel Spirits’ ability to acquire a liquor license will provide the city with a mechanism to collect sales tax and facilitate control over legal alcohol sales,” Hoffman said. “We all know the current situation in Bethel only perpetuates the rampant presence of illegal alcohol sales and continuing to ignore that reality helps no one.”

There have been attempts to change alcohol laws during the past four decades in Bethel, a hub community for numerous villages that ban alcohol altogether. Bethel had bars and a liquor store before the early 1970s.

In 2009, voters in Bethel eliminated a local-option law that prohibited the sale of alcohol and limited alcohol imported to the community. In an advisory vote the next year, Bethel residents rejected five types of liquor sales. The City Council protested liquor license applications filed by businesses, prompting application rejections by the ABC Board.

Residents currently can possess alcohol in homes after it is delivered by air carriers.


Information from: KYUK-AM, https://www.kyuk.org

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