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Alaska town votes today: Let liquor flow?

January 19, 2010 | 11:15 am

Bethelak

Massachusetts is not the only place holding an election today.

In Bethel, a port city of 6,000 in southwestern Alaska, voters are being asked if the city should go wet -- allowing residents to open bars, liquor stores or restaurants that serve wine and beer, assuming the state alcohol control board approves.

For 32 years, apparently, the good people of Bethel -- accessible only by air and river -- have ordered their booze from Anchorage, which restricts purchases. Critics fear a reopened liquor industry could increase crime rates and traffic deaths.

The vote is advisory only. City officials put it on the ballot to find out what voters really meant last October when they voted 615-523 to toss out the city's liquor prohibition. Were they sick of the state recording how much alcohol they ordered from Anchorage and restricting individuals to less than a keg of beer a month? Or did they actually want bars and liquor stores to open?

"Our heads are just kind of going in circles out here," said Bethel Mayor Joe Klejka, a physician who favors a return to "damp" status for the city. That means you can order a limited amount of liquor but can't buy it in town.

A toast to you, Mr. Mayor.

-- Johanna Neuman

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