Kotzebue may loosen its liquor restrictions

Posted: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

KOTZEBUE - Kotzebue voters will decide Oct. 6 whether to loosen liquor rules.

A measure on the ballot would allow the city to own and operate a liquor store or bar. The measure also would create an alcohol control board that would distribute alcohol to people who order booze from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The Anchorage Daily News reports it's an attempt to control bootlegging and underage drinking. City liquor sales also could raise money for services.

The Northwest Alaska city closed bars and liquor stores in 1987. The 3,100 residents can import booze but can't buy or sell it in town.

Liquor is an explosive issue in the town where police report more than 90 percent of crimes are alcohol-related.

"We know that we're not going to prohibit alcohol in Kotzebue, so why not control it?" said police chief John Ward.

The push for change started with a group of young petitioners who brought the idea to the Kotzebue elders council in early August, said council chairman Willie Goodwin.

"They approached us in a respectful manner and said what we have right now is not working. And we realize that," Goodwin said. "There's a lot of bootlegging going on. Alcohol is readily available to the young people."

Still, Goodwin said he plans to encourage elders to oppose the vote. Young voters don't know what the city was like when it was wet - a time of alcohol-fueled deaths in Kotzebue and across the region, he said.

"I'm scared. I'm afraid to see what happens."

Kotzebue voters have rejected several attempts to go completely wet or completely dry since the late 1980s. The city's last alcohol vote came in 2003, when plans for a city-controlled distribution site failed at the ballot box.

City attorney Joe Evans attended meetings on the proposal this month with the elders council, the regional nonprofit and Native corporation and others.

"I think the reason this has a chance of passing is that there's just general dissatisfaction about the way things are operating now," he said.

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