(Neb)-Liquor Commission Denies Whiteclay Licenses
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The 3-member Nebraska Liquor Control Commission has voted unanimously to deny the renewal of the liquor licenses of the four beer stores in Whiteclay, ruling there is inadequate law enforcement in the area, but the ruling is unlikely to have any immediate impact because the store owners had earlier said they would appeal if they lost.
The four stores sell the equivalent of 3-1/2-million cans of beer a year, nearly all of it to residents of the adjacent Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the sale and possession of alcohol is blamed but still has massive alcohol-related health and social problems.
Activists and leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe have pushed for years to have the stores closed and their licenses revoked, but this is the first time the liquor commission has acted against the Whiteclay stores for anything other than the periodic types of license violations that occasionally hit nearly all licensees.
Commission Chairman Bob Batt of Omaha made the motion to deny the license renewals, saying "This is not a place that can exist any longer, this is not a place that can exist as a purveyor of alcohol at all."
The audience for the session, nearly all opponents of the licenses, burst out into applause and cheer with the commission vote. Sitting front row were State Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon, who grew up on or near the reservation, and former Oklahoma liquor enforcement official turned documentary film maker John Maisch, one of the sharpest critics of the Whiteclay situation in recent years.
Retired longtime Pine Ridge educator and former Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer told the Lincoln Journal-Star after the meeting "We've never come this far," adding that he was "just so happy for our people."
The Liquor Commission last November cited concerns about law enforcement in the area and denied the beer stores the right to apply for simple renewal of their licenses and instead ordered them to go through the longer and slower reapplication process.
The Sheridan County Commissioners held a lengthy public hearing of their own on the law enforcement issue in January and recommended renewal of the licenses on relatively technical grounds.
They said there was insufficient evidence to prove that the level of law enforcement was any worse than it was when the liquor commission first granted the licenses and that Nebraska law didn't given them the power to overrule the state panel.
The liquor commission then heard some 9 hours of testimony at an 11-hour public hearing in the Capitol two weeks ago tomorrow that focused on just the law enforcement issue and did not allow a repeat of past testimony on the health impact of the alcohol sales on the reservation and its residents.
The current license holders for the Arrowhead Inn, the Jumping Eagle Inn, D&S Pioneer Service and State Line Liquor argued at the liquor commission hearing that they run legal businesses and that law enforcement in Whiteclay has improved the past 2 year years.
Their attorney also argued the commission lacked the power to deny them the renewal process or to deny approval of the licenses unless the licenses holders were proven to have been in violation of the regulations for renewal.
They and their supporters also argued closing the Whiteclay stores would not end the alcohol problems on the reservation because buyers and bootleggers would just to other communities such as Rushville or Chadron, increasing the chances of fatal drunk-driving accidents.
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