ibusinesslines.com August 23, 2017

The tap runs dry for Whiteclay beer vendors

20 April 2017, 08:32 | Melissa Porter

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted three to zero to deny liquor licenses for four beer stores in Whiteclay.

Batt and others on the commission said they were persuaded by testimony from members of a street ministry, Lakota Hope, who have regular contact with the 15 to 40 "street people" who beg for beer and money in Whiteclay. "This is not a place that can exist as a purveyor of alcohol at all".

Cheers and applause broke out in the cramped hearing room at the State Office Building, where activists gathered to hear the decision. Liquor purchases, they say, will just be transferred to bootleggers or to other communities farther away, thus increasing the risks of deadly drunk-driving accidents.

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".

A state liquor board took the unprecedented step Wednesday of voting to deny the renewal of the liquor licenses of four beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska.

The stores may remain open through April 30, when their licenses expire.

"They're disappointed, but they're resolved to see it through" to an appeal, Snyder said. The current stores, which are restricted to selling only beer and malt beverages, are the Arrowhead Inn, the Jumping Eagle Inn, D&S Pioneer Service and State Line Liquor.

Snyder repeated his claim that the state's actions against his clients are part of a politically motivated effort led by Gov. Pete Ricketts. I think Nebraskans won. Tom Brewer of Gordon, who watched Wednesday's vote, announced the result on the legislative floor. The commission had openly expressed worries that law enforcement couldn't adequately monitor illegal alcohol transactions. Brewer, a member of Pine Ridge's resident Oglala Lakota Tribe whose legislative district includes Whiteclay.

Nearly all sales are to residents of the impoverished reservation, where alcoholism is rampant and an estimated one in four children suffer from some form of fetal alcohol syndrome. The stores have operated in town for decades despite criticism that the area lacks adequate law enforcement.

Messages left with the beer store owners were not immediately returned. Shutting down the beer stores, he said, won't solve all the liquor-related problems on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but will make alcohol less accessible and end the "catalyst" for a lot of the problems. A group of street ministers who live in Whiteclay testified about persistently risky, disgusting conditions there.

But aside from a single remark last fall by a Sheridan County commissioner, local authorities have insisted they have the resources to maintain public safety.

The Liquor Commission rejected that argument in reaching Wednesday's decision.

Whiteclay, an unincorporated village of fewer than 10 residents near the Nebraska state line, has been called the "Skid Row of the Plains" because the stores sell the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer a year.

Snyder said Bailey's statement went beyond the issues the commission was supposed to consider in its decision and will only help with the stores' appeal. "That'll be useful to us".

Liquor license renewals are usually a formality, but this year, the liquor commission ordered the four stores to undergo a "long form" application process, which is essentially akin to reapplying for their licenses.

"The quantity and quality of evidence is dramatically different" in this case, he said.

Some movement is already underway on that front.

LaMere, whose own tribe is based almost 400 miles from Pine Ridge, has fought almost two decades to end Whiteclay beer sales and fix the problems on the neighboring reservation.

Still, LaMere relished Wednesday's victory.

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