St. Michael voters go to polls for alcohol status

Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Voters in St. Michael went to the polls Wednesday to decide whether to overturn the ban on alcohol it adopted 17 years ago.

The Norton Sound village of 380 will vote on whether to allow residents to possess alcohol. Sales of alcohol would still not be allowed.

Wednesday's vote was expected to be close. Lined up against it were St. Michael's elders, city authorities and other residents who remember what happened when the village went damp in spring 1986.

''My brother got shot and killed'' by a drunken man during that five-month experiment, village Mayor Carl Otten told the Anchorage Daily News. ''I'm just hoping the voters make the right choice.''

Also watching closely is Stebbins, a slightly larger village on the other side of St. Michael Island that is just a 20-minute four-wheeler ride away. Stebbins city administrator Jean Ferris said she fears the ripple effect if booze starts flowing into its close neighbor.

Since the Alaska Legislature adopted the local option law in 1979, rural villages have had the authority to prohibit the sale or importation of alcohol by putting the question to local voters. More than 100 communities have banned the sale, importation or possession of alcohol, though bootlegging is rampant and alcohol abuse remains prevalent throughout the state, regardless of community size. Alcohol figures prominently in Alaska's high rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, accidental death and suicide.

St. Michael narrowly voted to go dry in 1983, prohibiting both importation and sale of alcohol. Three years later, village residents brought up the question again, this time voting to go damp.

The freedom to import and possess alcohol lasted only months, however. The following August, after Otten's brother was killed, St. Michael went dry again.

Stebbins has been more resolute in its opposition to alcohol. In 1981 residents voted 49-7 to go dry, and the village has never gone back.

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