A special meeting of the Bethel City Council Thursday night did not result in lifting it’s protest on Alaska Commercial Company's current liquor store application.
The Council adjourned without taking action on the protest, which leaves the protest in place. The decision came despite the Bethel Planning Commission granting Alaska Commercial their Conditional Use Permit. The Council meeting began with over half a dozen Bethelites speaking against lifting the protest during People to be Heard.
The Association of Village Council Presidents CEO Vivian Korthuis and Chairman Ray Watson spoke.
“Two things,” said Watson. “One, we protest on record. Two, we wrote a letter that we wanted to form a task force to look at the impact in the City of Bethel and the Native Village of Bethel and the nearby villages.”
Watson says that the tribal council members have a fiduciary responsibility to protect their membership and that further, it’s not in the best interest of the community to open up a third liquor store regardless of who holds the license.
“We have increased ambulance calls,” said Watson, “our police department is strained, and I have to say we all have to step back and look to see what is happening within our community here. We all have to do that.”
After the resolution was introduced, there was an attempt to adjourn the meeting which failed.
Then AC Vice-President of Operations Walt Pickett spoke and asked that the protest be removed.
“So, we have met the conditions of the property,” said Pickett. “I know there was concern brought forward by the council with regard to the location based on the number of calls.”
The protest specifically refers to the number of alcohol calls, and to that he stated that both proposed AC and Kusko Liquor locations are less than a mile apart.
“It’s hard for me to understand that part of the protest given the proximity of the two locations,” said Pickett.
Some Council members were interested to look for a way to enforce limits on bulk sales of hard alcohol. Council member Mark Springer pointed out that the liquor stores would have to be talking to one another to make those limits enforceable.
“What would be the policy of self enforcement constraint that would prevent me from going to the liquor store you have now and buying a case of R&R,” said Springer, “and then going to the liquor store down by Slough and buying a second case of R&R? Would there be any communication between the two establishments?”
Pickett said he would be open to such a plan between AC stores, though no plan is currently in place.
“And it would be a simple process change to notify the other store,” said Pickett. “Keep in mind that if the Kusko application is accepted, that there is nothing going to prevent that either. In fact, there will be no control to prevent that from occurring.”
After the meeting Pickett did say that should Kusko be awarded the third and final liquor license, they’d be open to sharing that information.
“It’s actually a good idea and we could reach out to the Kusko liquor store to discuss that,” said Pickett. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but again, in the best interest of both parties.”
A unanimous vote to adjourn the meeting, excluding Council member Naim Shabani who was out on travel, upheld the City of Bethel’s protest against AC’s liquor application.
AC and Kusko Liquor’s applications now go before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which meets today starting at 9 a.m.