Tiny Nebraska town's massive beer sales again scrutinized

AP News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2017 1:48 PM

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A small Nebraska town whose four beer stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans in 2015 again is caught in the crosshairs of a debate over alcohol sales and widespread alcoholism on a bordering Native American reservation in South Dakota.

County officials voted 3-0 on Tuesday to recommend the state renew the liquor licenses of the stores in Whiteclay, a town with a dozen full-time residents that abuts the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Some members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe blame Whiteclay for problems on the reservation, where alcohol is banned.

Sheridan County Commissioner Loren Paul said the board didn't believe they could legally stop them from selling alcohol, but refused to elaborate.

"I don't think there will be any further action by the board at this time," he said.

Last week, commissioner Jack Andersen said he didn't believe closing the stores would keep reservation residents from drinking or traveling farther south into Sheridan County.

The decision — a setback for activists who for decades have targeted the stores in hopes stopping the sales — now goes to the state board that regulates alcohol. State law only allows the board to recommend against renewals if they conclude that the area fails to meet certain standards, such as having adequate law enforcement.

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission ordered the Whiteclay stores to reapply for their liquor licenses in November amid public pressure to reduce panhandling, public drunkenness and violence and concerns about adequate law enforcement in the area.

The effort to close the stores in recent years has included marches, meetings with Nebraska officials and road blockades designed to stop alcohol from crossing into the reservation. In May 2013, vandals smashed the windows and front lights of two beer trucks and slashed at least one tire during deliveries to Whiteclay. They also fought with local law enforcement officers who were keeping watch over a third shipment.

Activists have also called on Nebraska officials to restore a 10-mile-wide, 5-mile long buffer zone that was created in 1882 to protect tribe members from whiskey peddlers. Known as the Whiteclay extension, the zone was eliminated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 through an order that opened the land to white settlement and alcohol sales.

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