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Nome City Council Delays Vote on Liquor Store Limits

Close-up view of a long rack of wine bottles on sale inside a liquor store.

Some citizens opposed a proposal to limit alcohol sales south of Sixth Avenue at Monday night’s Nome City Council meeting. Ultimately, the council delayed a vote on the ordinance — but heard suggestions, business changes, and other ideas that some residents felt would be more productive in addressing public intoxication.

Several residents noted that public intoxication is only a small part of the issue; the problem is mainly one of homelessness and a lack of gathering space. As a result, citizens noted, drinking is done in public and people have nowhere to go but remain on Front Street.

Lisa Ellana was one of the few residents to speak in favor of the measure but reminded the Council to keep in mind the humanity of people when they use language like “chronic inebriates.”

“Limiting hours and access is a really good thing. We are very, very soaked in alcohol in our community… but those are band aids. When we are talking about ‘chronic inebriate’ homeless on Front Street, those are our family members: that’s who we are, they are us and we are them. But we need to address the holistic side caring for each other in our community.”

Ellana did agree with other speakers, including former NEST director Sue Steinacher, that housing and mental illness are two of the biggest problems at the root of public intoxication. Steinacher suggested that the city construct other gathering places for people to congregate but also urged the city to work with non-profits in Nome to truly tackle the issue of homelessness.

Mike McNally, manager of the liquor store on Front Street, claimed many of his customers would be inconvenienced. McNally says he has already taken steps to curb alcohol abuse: the store is changing its sign to read “Nome Quick Stop” rather than “Nome Liquor Store” and has now mandated an ID check for every customer, regardless of age or patron status. McNally has requested from the City a list of persons who should not be served; he says that with mandatory ID checks, such a list would be easy to enforce. The store’s hours were modified earlier this week. The store now closes at 8 p.m. every night. McNally concluded by saying this about the ordinance to the Council:

“I believe that putting this through as it is right now would be detrimental to a lot of customers who behave.”

The Council did not pass the ordinance but postponed the vote to November, allowing time for the above changes to have an effect.

New business was added to the agenda by Councilman Tobin regarding the Interim City Manager. City Manager Tom Moran, who announced his resignation last week, was out of town for business and did not attend the meeting.

The Council discussed who would be suitable and agreed that John Handeland, manager of Nome Joint Utilities System, would be a qualified candidate with “public trust.” Despite Moran’s resignation, that trust still seems lacking between the city and some residents. Trinh Johnson asked the Council why she had not heard anything about previous complaints and investigations that she had brought to the city in previous meetings.

Councilman Gerald Brown addressed her concerns:

“I can assure you that I’m confident there are investigations proceeding on your complaints as well as others. There are things proceeding. It’s unfortunate that it can’t all be in the public.”

Trinh Johnson and Chuck Fagerstorm, both of Nome, expressed that Moran should be fired rather than work until his 30 days are over.

In other new business, the agenda included a second hearing for an ordinance on a potential private access industrial road from the Ambler Mining District to the Port of Nome. The environmental impact study (EIS) is still underway. Port Commissioner Joy Baker explains what this ordinance would do:

“This would show that there is a coastal community with a port that supports a westerly route, but there is a large comment period process after the draft EIS is released.”

The motion did pass with Councilman Tobin and Councilman Anderson voting against.

The next City Council meeting will be on October 8.

Image at top: public domain, via Pixabay.

Editor’s note: Tom Moran is a member of the KNOM Radio Mission Board of Directors.