Alaska State Fair prepares to make its case for alcohol permit

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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - For nearly 40 years the Alaska State Fair has sold beer and wine, but it might take a change in state law to issue its next permit.

As written, state law allows recreational alcohol sales at events like hockey games, dog sled races and curling matches.

The Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office (AMCO) cites two audits in the past five years as a reason for questioning the recreational permits of nearly a dozen organizations.

"During both of those (2014 & 2017) audits, the Alcoholic Beverage Control board was called out for improperly issuing site licenses to establishments that did not meet the statutory requirements for such a license," Erika McConnell, Director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, said by phone during a hearing on Senate Bill 16 in Juneau Tuesday. "I don't think that the Fair should feel singled out, as there are a number of recreational site licenses that appear not to meet the statutory requirements and are being brought to the board for consideration."

McConnell said that the Alaska State Fair license was found to be "problematic with regards to the recreational site license statute," and that the ABC board was working with lawmakers to come up with a legislative solution to the recreational site licensing problem.

"It's not the office's desire to see the Alaska State Fair lose its ability to serve alcohol, but it is rather our office's desire to make sure the statutes are being accurately and appropriately implemented," McConnell said.

Jerome Hertel, General Manager of the Alaska State Fair, pointed out to the committee that in the 2014 and 2017 audits, the fair was "never called out by name as one of the examples, as far as I know — as called out by name specifically as not meeting the requirements of the recreational site license."

Legislative Auditor Kris Curtis confirmed for lawmakers that the Alaska State Fair was not among the organizations reviewed during the audits, but that the issue over permits has to do with what she described as the unusual specificity in the statute about which activities qualify.

"We tested 10 of 29 of recreational site licenses that were active during that year and we found all 10 did not qualify," Legislative Auditor Kris Curtis said, but added that the Alaska State Fair was not among the site licenses included in the audit. "It (the State Fair) wasn't part of our sample, so we didn't actually look at it."

Now lawmakers are considering an amendment to the law, known as Senate Bill 16, which would allow certain venues to more easily sell alcohol.

KTUU asked Jerome Hertel, General Manager of the Alaska State Fair, what happens if the bill doesn't pass this session.

It's possible the non-profit could apply for special permits, fair management doesn't think that's the best bet.

"We don't feel that's a great option for us," Hertel said. "We feel that just renewing the State Fair's alcohol license as a recreational permit and then we can continue to work on that legislation and work on a permanent fix for the fair," he said.

Recently the Fair launched an online petition. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 5,000 people have signed in support of renewing the non-profit's recreational license for the 2019-2020 seasons.

Hertel said he plans to attend the February 19 Alcoholic Beverage Control Board meeting in Juneau. "We're going to go in and argue our case and argue for continuing the State Fair's alcohol license under a recreation permit and hopefully we'll be successful."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Alaska State Fair was among the organizations named in legislative audits of recreational site licenses issued by the Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office.

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