Beer stores near reservation appeal loss of liquor licenses

April 25, 2017 - 2:44 pm

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The owners of four Nebraska beer stores that sell millions of cans of beer each year near a South Dakota American Indian reservation that is plagued by alcohol-related problems are appealing a state regulator's decision not to renew their liquor licenses.

The appeal filed late Monday in Lancaster County District Court says the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission's decision last week was arbitrary, unsupported by evidence and contrary to Nebraska law. The commission cited concerns about a lack of adequate law enforcement near the stores in the village of Whiteclay, 360 miles (580 kilometers) northwest of Omaha.

The licenses are scheduled to expire Sunday, although a judge could allow them to remain open.

The stores sell beer and malt liquor just 200 yards (180 meters) south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which bars alcohol but continues to struggle with high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related issues among members of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. The stores have operated for decades, despite criticism that the area lacks adequate law enforcement to enforce state liquor laws and prevent violence and sexual assaults.

The judge will weigh the potential harm to the public against the potential harm to the businesses, said Dave Domina, an attorney for residents who oppose the liquor license renewals. A hearing on the request is expected later this week.

Domina said advocates who oppose the stores are already planning to revitalize the town.

"I think there's a real effort to begin moving forward," he said.

The liquor control commission said in its ruling that the beer store owners' testimony during an April 6 public hearing was "self-serving and failed in any way to show that law enforcement in Whiteclay was adequate and consistent with the public interest."

Longtime advocates who have sought to improve conditions in Whiteclay said the ruling could set the stage for a larger transformation that will serve members of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Lawmakers were planning to visit the area in May, and tribe members were expected to hold a prayer vigil to call for courts to uphold the commission's ruling.

"We look at this decision as an initial and vital early step in what will be a transformed Whiteclay, one that promotes life, healing and hope," said Bruce BonFleur, a faith leader who lives in Whiteclay.

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