(Neb)-Dry Whiteclay Seeing Improvements
WHITECLAY, Neb. (AP) - Residents of Whiteclay say conditions have improved dramatically after 4 months without beer sales as streets once filled with panhandlers and public drunkenness are now quiet. The 4 Whiteclay stores with beer licenses closed at the end of April after being denied license renewals.
Bruce BonFleur, director of Lakota Hope Ministry in Whiteclay, says the streets are "definitely cleaner and safer" without most of the men and women who hung around aimlessly now gone.
He says there are only 2 or 3 "regulars" at any given time compared to 2 dozen or more when the stores were open. He thinks about half of the regulars now stay on the adjacent Pine Ridge Reservation, many living with their families and some have stopped their drinking.
Unrelated to the closings is an economic development mini-boom in Whiteclay. Two abandoned buildings frequented by vagrants have been demolished and the Dollar General chain has a store under construction. Several existing businesses have also spruced up their exteriors.
Nearly all the beer that had been sold in Whiteclay, almost 3.5-million cans worth last year, was purchased by residents of the officially dry reservation, and supporters of the beer stores argued closing them could simply push beer purchases to Rushville and other towns farther away.
They also predicted it would spur an increase in drunken drivers, but Sheridan County Attorney Jamian Simmons told the Associated Press last week that while the number of drunk driving cases has increased slightly, it's too early to know if that's a trend.
The reservation's Strong Heart Warrior Society says the problem of illegal bootlegging has grown since the Whiteclay closures. Spokesman Caupa Gluha Mani says the handful of bootleggers before closing has grown to more than 50 with established operations.
Alcohol sales also in nearby communities have also risen, with sales in Rushville up more than 3-1/2 times from January to June, but the increases still fall 7-to-10% short of matching the final months of sales in Whiteclay.
BonFleur expects "huge protests" from Oglala Sioux tribal members if the Nebraska Supreme Court sides with the lower court, overturns the liquor control commission's denial of licenses, and allows the stores to reopen.
Fellow activist Olowan Martinez says "Nebraskans should be worried about how they'll look to the world" should that happen.
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