The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

Bill Johnson for Alaska House

By STEVEN WEBER
Reporter, Valdez Star 

Bars will close at 2 a.m. if new ordinance passes second reading next week

Backers hope that curtailing the hours liquor can be served will curb DUI arrests

 

August 15, 2018

Steven Weber photo

Brandee Martel, manager of the Boardroom, shows patrons the bar's posted hours.

The Valdez City Council voted 4-2 to move the time that bars can remain open from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.

A second reading of the ordinance is calendared for the next city council meeting, Wednesday, August 22 - the day after the primary elections. If approved after the second reading, the change will go into effect immediately.

The amended ordinance was originally discussed by council in a late July work session; it called for bars to close at 3 a.m. When the ordinance came to council for a vote during the regular meeting, council member Dennis Fleming offered an amendment to the ordinance to move closing time to 2 a.m. The amended ordinance was drafter, and came up for its first reading last week.

Backers of the change hope that by curtailing the hours liquor can be served the number of DUI arrests with very high blood-alcohol levels in Valdez will drop.

"We seem to be taking the problem and moving it to a different time," council member Chris Moulton said. "We should not be passing ordinances just to feel good."

Council member Lon Needles echoed Moulton's thoughts.

"The police chief said he doubted this would make any difference to the horrible accident last April, so are we just doing something to do something?" he asked.

Moulton also brought up the idea of having a study done if the ordinance is passed.

"...if it does pass, I would like this body to re-evaluate it, maybe after Labor Day of 2019 and look at statistics and see what is going on," Moulton said. "If we pass this and the DUI rates remain the same, then we have done something just to pat ourselves on the back."

Going back and forth with changes however is not very easy according to Needles.

"We can change the ordinance at any time, but they don't get changed very often when they are done," he said.

After discussion from two community members, Moulton moved to postpone the vote until the next meeting with another work session in the meantime, which did not pass.

Immediately after Moulton's request failed, a vote was held to advance the ordinance to the second reading, which passed with a 4-2 vote. Needles and Ron Ruff cast the dissenting votes. Council member Jim Shirrell was absent.

No members of the public spoke about why the hours of the bar should not be changed.

Mayor Jeremy O'Neil said that members of the public that are against the change should contact a city council member or himself and let them know why they do not support the change. Members of the community that are opposed to the change are also encouraged to provide public comment at the next city council meeting.

In 2016, where the most recent data with the National Highway Traffic Administration is available; 37,461 individuals were killed in vehicle accidents with 10,497 or 28 percent having at least one driver above a BAC of 0.08. Of the 10,497 alcohol related vehicle accidents, 67 percent had a driver with a BAC of 0.15 (almost twice the legal limit) or higher. A whopping 73.4 percent of those above a 0.15 BAC had previous DUIs.

In Alaska, for the same year, thirty individuals were killed as a result of driving over the legal limit. Although this number sounds low, this breaks down to 4.2 per 100,000 people when including tourists and part time residents, which is higher than the national average of 3.3 per 100,000 people. Additionally, from 2007-2016 alcohol related fatalities increased in Alaska by 13.5 percent, whereas they decreased by 24.7 percent nationwide for the same time period.

 

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