Bethel votes today on barring bars

Posted: Tuesday, May 04, 2010

BETHEL - Bethel voters will decide in a special election Tuesday whether to again ban bars and liquor stores.

Alcohol is a familiar question for Bethel. It voted just seven months ago to lift a decades-long ban on liquor sales and remove the monthly limits on alcohol shipments.

No bar or liquor store has opened since then.

The Anchorage Daily News reports the vote may be more important in restricting the flow of booze from Bethel to dozens of surrounding villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where alcohol is usually forbidden.

Hooper Bay public safety officer Sgt. James Hoelscher says he's referring more cases of child abuse and neglect than he has in 15 years.

Lower Kuskokwim School District Superintendent Gary Baldwin says principals are reporting more problems - trouble at home, misbehavior and less attention to schoolwork - related to alcohol.

"I've talked to village community members too, and they're telling me the same thing: They say the price has gone down and the volume's gone way up," Baldwin said.

The people who petition to lift liquor restriction in Bethel in October said they didn't really want liquor sales, but were sick of the state oversight. Tom Hawkins said he can now order alcohol without the state peering at his purchases.

Hawkins doubts more restrictions will keep villages dry.

"I don't think there's anything I can do to stop that," he said. "Whether it's dry, wet, damp, whatever you want to call it. Those problems have always existed."

Public Safety Officer Hoelscher said he's noticed people flying to Bethel on day trips and bringing booze back to the community.

"It's one of the biggest problems in this part of the state, if not the biggest," he said.

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