Fairbanks holds a tribute to Alaska's battle with bootleggers

100 gallons of beer, wine and spirits were poured out

Posted: Monday, June 01, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks again this year held a tribute to the state's ongoing battle with bootleggers and people who try to smuggle alcohol into Alaska's dry communities.

Tonya Esmailka is an addiction counselor. Debbie Ogden was raised by alcoholics.

The pair stood over a 55-gallon drum Saturday pouring out bottles of R & R Canadian Whisky.

On a nearby table sat the rest of the booze, including 203 more bottles of R & R whisky.

When all counted, there was about 100 gallons of beer, wine and spirits.

All of it was poured out.

"I used to drink," said airline cargo handler James Johnson. "I haven't had a drink for about 11 years. It feels good to dump it out."

Ogden, the daughter of alcoholic parents, agreed.

"It felt absolutely wonderful pouring it out," she said. "It was like saving a life. I saw the effects of it and especially how it affects the Native people."

The event dubbed Fairbanks International Airport's Big Pour was hosted by the Fairbanks Airport Police and Fire Department.

Thanks to ordinary people calling a tip line, authorities confiscated 111 gallons of alcohol in 2008. That is twice as much booze as in the previous year.

This year's pour drew about 50 people, including Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Joseph Masters; Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks; Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks; Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Anchorage; former Fairbanks Councilwoman Tanya Brown; and Christine Klein, a transportation department deputy commissioner. The Soaring Eagle Drum Group performed.

As Sean Topkok emptied a few bottles, it wasn't his alcoholic father he thought about but young people living in rural Alaska. Topkok hoped the state's efforts to curb bootlegging means a few more young people won't be exposed to the life-shattering affects of drinking.

"Bootlegging is like purposely bringing an unwanted disease into a community against its wishes," the University of Alaska Fairbanks instructor and Web designer said.

Rick Rifley, the airport police sergeant who hatched the idea, said the Big Pour started as a way for authorities to thumb their noses at bootleggers by making the alcohol disposal into a public display.

Previously, airport police poured confiscated booze down a drain in their nondescript building west of the main airport terminal. Now, the alcohol is poured into drums under a vestibule in the General Aviation Airpark south of the Mitchell Expressway. A wife of one of the airport police officers catered the event.

"Some year, I'd like to see the Big Pour get big enough that we need the Carlson Center," Rifley said. "Here is the fruit of out efforts. We feel good about seeing this go away."

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