Bethel City Council imposes 6-month hold on marijuana operations

(Creative Commons photo by Brett Levin)
(Creative Commons photo by Brett Levin)

Bethel City Council unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on marijuana license applications on Tuesday. The moratorium places a hold on the city processing any land use, zoning, or licensing approvals for marijuana operations in Bethel.

Council Member Zach Fansler serves on the City Marijuana Advisory Committee and introduced the measure to buy the city time to work out its regulations.

“There’s a lot of question marks out there,” Fansler said. “This moratorium is looking to provide the committee time to do its job properly, provide us time to get clarification on things that others may be doing around the state, see what’s working and what isn’t and how these guidelines are being interpreted on a state level, and how it will affect us here since we are in a unique situation here compared to those on the road system.”

Zoning and “public places” are two areas to examine, Fansler said. He also wants to pull community advisers into the devising process— experts like the Planning Committee, emergency responders, and legal counsel.

“What we need is six months to do the work as a committee and do the research and communicate the entities who would be involved in something of this nature,” he said.

He wants the committee to submit recommendations to council within four months.

Also at the meeting, the council discussed writing a letter to the Army Corp of Engineers, asking the group to extend the public comment period on the Donlin Creek draft environmental impact statement from six months to a year. Council member Nikki Hoffman suggested the letter as a way to give the city and region more time to absorb the about 5,000-page document. (For a visual, KYUK’s printed copy stands over a foot high.)

“I don’t think a year is too generous,” Hoffman said. “I that’s almost minimal to the fact that this is going to be a 27-year mining project.”

Fansler suggested reaching out to regional partners and governments to create a unified response.

“AVCP, BNC, ONC come to mind to see if they were interested in fashioning similar letters of support, the communities who are up and down the Kuskokwim River,” he said.

Hoffman said the extension would also allow the city time to plan for how to integrate an influx of people into a city already struggling with housing and infrastructure.

“They’re going to need to be living somewhere. They’re going to be needing to flush their toilets and get some water. These are things that are already impacting our community as is, without Donlin being here,” she said.

Mayor Rick Robb opposed the letter, saying a delay could be seen as resistance to a project that could provide hundreds of local jobs and an economic base to start a borough.

The motion to write the letter failed unanimously since the resolution did not appear on the meeting agenda. The council discussed revisiting the motion at its next session.

The EIS six-month comment period ends in April. A Bethel community meeting to gather public comment on the document will occur at the Cultural Center on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. The region-wide meeting schedule can be found here.

In further council news, the body unanimously voted to donate around $5,000 worth of furniture to the ONC Senior Center Program.

And for the second meeting in a row, the council postponed discussing a proposed ordinance mandating GPS and surveillance cameras in cabs. Council Member Chuck Herman said the Public Safety and Transportation Commission unanimously voted to oppose the measure for the second time.

“No one has really proposed a clear reason they want it,” Herman said, “and continually it seems that everyone is grasping at new things that are what they’re trying to solve with this without giving a substantive reason why we should impose this cost and this burden on a private burden and have this new thing that takes over privacy.”

The council next meets Feb. 9.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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