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Nome bars still able to serve alcohol

A long table with a gavel resting on it. American flag in background.
Empty Nome City Council room. (Photo by Brisa Alarcon, KNOM).

After much discussion Monday night, the Nome Common Council did not pass a proposed emergency ordinance that would have prohibited sales of alcohol in town for on-site consumption.

The ordinance’s goal was to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Nome. The city is currently experiencing a COVID spike; Norton Sound Health Corporation identified 9 new cases of the disease in Nome on Monday, bringing the current total number of active cases in the city to 96.

The proposed ordinance drew the attention of several community members. Many, including Derek McLarty, expressed concern that the ordinance unnecessarily targeted bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

“But it is also aimed directly at one venue, one business style. And it’s not necessarily the most susceptible to COVID spread by any logical rationale,” McLarty said.

Former council member Jennifer Reader, speaking as a member of the community, brought up the potential economic impact of the proposed ordinance.

“What’s going to happen when the private business closes? How are we going to ensure that they can actually open again and don’t close indefinitely?” Reader said.

The council spent nearly a full hour discussing the merits of government intervention.

“​It has been said numerous times that it’s currently a pandemic of the unvaccinated. I mean, there’s a mechanism out there to protect yourself. I’m not so sure that we need to protect people from themselves when they don’t want to be protected,” Council Member Jerald Brown said, referencing a statement from July by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Council Member Meghan Sigvanna Topkok had a different perspective.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that there was a lot of breakthrough cases, I would be less concerned. You know, if people want to choose to put themselves at risk, that’s one thing. But when people are putting me at risk, as somebody who’s fully vaccinated, who’s putting my husband at risk … I just worry that even though I contain myself as much as I can, that the consequences of other people’s poor choices are going to ultimately impact me,” Topkok said.

The council members also discussed ways they might limit the financial damage from lost sales to bars and restaurants if they did pass the ordinance. In the end, however, only three of the four council members in attendance voted yes — not enough to pass the ordinance, under city code.

In other business, the council approved a request from Nome Joint Utility System to expand the scope of the water and sewer work completed this past summer underneath Bering Street. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will now improve the water and sewer lines underneath Seppala Drive when it reconstructs the road in 2023.

The Nome Common Council will meet next on Nov. 8.

Image at top: A gavel in the Council Chamber at Nome City Hall. Photo by Brisa Alarcon.

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