Marshall voters want to open city-run alcohol store in dry community

After three decades of prohibiting alcohol, the dry Lower Yukon community of Marshall wants to open a city-run alcohol store and has begun moving in that direction.

On Oct. 1, Marshall voted whether to change its local option status and allow the city to open an alcohol store. Most of those who cast ballots voted in favor, with 47 in support and 32 in opposition. Twenty-nine percent of the electorate participated. However, the results of that local option election are invalid.

A map of local option communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta as of Dec. 27, 2016. (State of Alaska)

Alaska law requires specific language to appear on the ballot for local option propositions, and Marshall Mayor Jaylene Fitka says that the city didn’t follow that language. The city council will meet in November to decide whether to hold a special election to allow voters to vote again on the issue.

Marshall has been dry for more than 30 years. It’s been illegal to import, sell, or possess alcohol in the community, but the substance has been present the entire time. “Even though we’re a dry community, it’s not stopping the alcohol from being here,” Mayor Fitka said in a phone call to KYUK.

Fitka voted in favor of opening the city-run alcohol store. She said that the idea has been tossed around the community for years. The store would only sell beer and wine, and the tax revenue would fund public safety, including police officers, firefighters, and search and rescue, all positions that are strained due to alcohol calls and could use more funding. Especially search and rescue, Fitka says, which is volunteer-run and relies on local donations.

Fitka acknowledges the contradiction of the city selling alcohol and using revenue from it to respond to alcohol emergencies. She reasons that “the number of responsible consumers outnumber the irresponsible consumers, so the city can benefit from the revenue and still allow personal choice.”

If the store opened, it would follow Emmonak and become the second legal alcohol store on the lower Yukon River. Emmonak voted to change its local option status in 2016 and open a city-run liquor store.

Anna Rose MacArthur is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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