The votes are in, but Angoon residents will have to wait to find out if their Admiralty Island community will remain dry.
A proposition to make it legal for people to possess and consume alcohol led 87-86 when the final tally was reported on citizens band radio Tuesday night. But there remain 25 absentee ballots that haven't been counted, according to Jess Daniels, whose petition put the question on the ballot.
"Let's face facts," he said. "This town's always been wet. It's dry only on paper."
If the question wins approval, it would make Angoon "damp." A "yes" vote wouldn't legalize the sale of alcohol in the predominantly Tlingit Native town of about 500 on the Chatham Strait community about 55 miles southwest of Juneau.
Alaska law allows communities to ban alcohol possession or sales. Angoon is the only dry community in Southeast, except for Metlakatla, which is dry by federal mandate as Alaska's lone Native reservation.
Angoon has been dry since the 1980s. Daniels said he doesn't drink but wanted to put the question to the vote of the community.
One of the people who voted against the repeal of Angoon's alcohol status was Richard George Sr., who won a seat on the seven-member City Council, with no opposition on the ballot. He said he believes the absentee votes will come out in favor of keeping the community dry.
"If they don't, we'll have another thing to deal with," he said.
"It's not over until Friday," when the absentee votes are counted, Daniels said.
George said he wasn't sure when the absentee votes will be counted.
Deputy Mayor George Nelson, who answered the telephone at City Hall Wednesday, said he didn't know when the absentee votes would be counted. City staff members and Mayor Walter Jack were not available to answer questions, he said.
George said Jack won re-election as mayor. His vote total was announced at 98, and he was more than 25 votes ahead of challenger Floyd Kookesh, who picked up 57 votes, George said.
George wants to keep alcohol illegal in Angoon because he wouldn't want to enable anyone to come off the ferry with alcohol.
"It negatively impacts our people so strongly," he said. It affects more than the people who drink alcohol, he added. When people take it home, it affects spouses and children.
More alcohol would cause more fights and increase domestic violence in the community, George said.
Daniels said he knows there is strong opposition from some Angoon residents about the alcohol measure. "Some people kind of glare at me. Glares don't hurt."
He also didn't disagree that alcohol can create problems. He said he saw the problems when he worked as a police officer in the community.
But with the community now having no local law enforcement and only occasional presence of a state trooper, there is no way to enforce a ban on alcohol. "If people wanted it dry, they should have done something about it," he said. "The reality is, (Angoon has) never been dry and it probably never will be."
He said he is tired of the high prices alcohol demands in the community. People will pay it, even if they can't afford it, he added.
Ed Kookesh Sr. said he voted for in favor of legalizing alcohol. He said he brought a friend to the polls to vote, and figures that's why the measure has a one-vote lead.
"I want this town damp," he said. It isn't fair that state officers can put people in jail and "take away their booze" if they catch them at the ferry dock bringing beer in beer for personal consumption, he said.
George said he would like to see the governor stand behind statements he has made about enforcing bootlegging to get more enforcement. The community also needs to provide alcoholics with help for their problems. "There's got to be some resources. They need help."
He also would like to see Angoon reinstate the police department, not simply to enforce the alcohol law.
Angoon hasn't had a city police officer since Daniels left in February 2004, after he was told his hours were being reduced.
"Police play such an important role in a community," George said. Beyond the alcohol enforcement, he believes are better if there is a patrolman around.
Ed Kookesh said alcohol is expensive, although cost isn't why he voted yes for alcohol. In Angoon, people can get $50 for an 18-pack of beer. But even if it became legal to bring it in on the ferry, "I don't see the prices coming down here."
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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