A week after Bethel voters lifted the city's 32-year ban on liquor sales, leaders on both sides of the debate are trying to block anyone from actually opening bars or liquor stores in town.
The city -- which was the largest in Alaska to outlaw alcohol sales -- certified the 615-523 vote Tuesday. Petitioners who put the question on the ballot argued they didn't really want liquor sales but were sick of the state meddling in local alcohol rules.
Now for the hard part.
More than half a dozen businesses and groups have already asked the state for liquor license applications to sell booze in Bethel, according to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The City Council can protest licenses, but the control board makes the final decision.
The people behind the ballot question, along with nonprofits that fought against lifting the ban, are now looking for ways to signal to the state that voters didn't really want liquor sales.
Here's what's in the works:
• Sponsors of the effort to repeal the liquor prohibition have started a "citizens coalition" opposed to anyone opening a bar, liquor store or alcohol-serving restaurant in Bethel, said Tom Hawkins, one of the original petitioners. About 20 people have joined so far.
• A city councilman is calling for a special election Jan. 19 to ask voters whether the city should protest some or all liquor license applications.
• The council plans to tackle the city's options at a special meeting early next week, said Mayor Joe Klejka. Among the questions: Should Bethel create zoning rules limiting where liquor can be sold in town? Should the city apply for a liquor license itself?
• Klejka wants the city to pass a resolution asking the state to deny any liquor license applications for at least one year, he said.
• The board of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., which provides medical care to roughly 50 surrounding communities, soon will vote on a resolution opposing local alcohol sales. The corporation this week also is handing out draft resolutions opposing Bethel liquor licenses to tribal leaders from dozens of surrounding "dry" villages where leaders fear the recent vote will encourage bootlegging and pour inexpensive alcohol into the region.
Gene Peltola, chief executive for the health corporation, was Bethel mayor in the late 1970s, the last time one could buy alcohol in town, he said.
"We had domestic violence issues ... school attendance issues," Peltola said. "People couldn't keep up with it, and it's just going to be a disaster if the sale of alcohol is allowed in Bethel."
Nine of 10 crimes already are alcohol-related, say city police. The hospital emergency room serves as a temporary sleep-off shelter for drunks.
Bringing liquor sales back to the city would strain the corporation's behavioral health and substance abuse programs, Peltola said.
Hawkins, the petitioner, isn't arguing. During the ballot question debate he said he'd be one of the first to oppose any new liquor sales and is now forming a group to oppose all liquor license applications.
The campaign isn't over, he said.
"We recognize the fact that it's kind of a risky move for us to do it this way," Hawkins said. "But in light of the state law, there is no other way."
More than 100 communities across Alaska have voted to restrict alcohol sale, importation or possession in hopes of reducing liquor-fueled violence, suicides and accidents. Kotzebue residents this month also eased liquor rules in their city, saying it's OK for the city to own and operate a liquor store or bar.
There, the vote also called for creating an alcohol distribution center and a local liquor control board.
The debate in Bethel was different. While some voters welcomed the chance to pick up a six pack on the way home from work, the most vocal proponents said they didn't want to go "wet" but were fed up with state oversight of liquor.
In "damp" towns, it is illegal to buy or sell alcohol, but one can order it from Anchorage or Fairbanks. The state limits the amount of alcohol people in "damp" communities can order each month and tracks their purchases in an electronic database. A failed proposal in the winter by then-Gov. Sarah Palin to cut import limits in half ignited the petition.
By voting to cast off local liquor restrictions, Bethel residents will be able to order as much alcohol as they want beginning Nov. 1, according to the state.
"Our whole reason for this movement was to put the citizens of Bethel back on an equal footing with the rest of the citizens of Alaska," Hawkins wrote in an e-mail.
Despite all the anti-alcohol resolutions in the works, it's ultimately up the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to award or deny liquor licenses in Bethel.
As in Anchorage or Fairbanks, the City Council will be able to protest each liquor license application -- which factors into the ABC Board's decision. Such protests generally are upheld by the board unless they're deemed "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable."
Still, said ABC Board director Shirley Gifford, the opportunity for the people to oppose local liquor sales was at the ballot box earlier this month.
"The time to object was during the vote," she said.
Peltola said he's now hearing two things from Bethel voters. First, they want to make sure the city does everything it can to prevent bars and liquor stores from opening, he said.
Second, they're asking what they got themselves into.