Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Alcohol meeting draws crowd, ideas; Residents ask police for more enforcement


September 1, 2011

Speakers at a town hall meeting Wednesday called for a community-wide crackdown on drunken driving and underage drinking.

Resident Heather Lende said involved parents who try to combat underage drinking need the support and back-up of school officials and police.

"I have found in my experience raising five (children) here that, invariably, my punishment as a parent has been much more severe than anything at school or from law enforcement," said Lende.

About 60 people attended the round-table discussion at the Chilkat Center to address alcohol abuse and misuse in Haines. Police chief Gary Lowe facilitated the event.

"How do we change a community social acceptance of alcohol?" Lowe asked. "Every social event in town is centered on alcohol. The Beer Fest is the top example."

The meeting agenda included identifying the scope of the problem, stakeholders, possible solutions and an action plan.

Resident Nancy Schnabel called for tougher enforcement from police, but acknowledged the department is limited by legal maneuvering. Referring to an 18-year-old run over during an underage drinking party, Schnabel said, "a minor is consuming, gets run over and hurt, it’s on the front page of the newspaper, and he’s not cited."

"When I hear you say that law enforcement is a small part of the issue, I might be really wrong on this, but I tend to think that you’re a much bigger part," Schnabel told Lowe.

Lowe said a response to alcohol abuse and misuse should include education, community resources and peer support. He said the department has made 22 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol in the past 20 months, and estimated about half of those were after someone from the public called in.

"I’d say a good third of (those arrested) told the officer, ‘Don’t you realize this is Haines? We can do this; this is Haines,’" Lowe said. "Law enforcement has an important role in changing this attitude, and we’re working on it."

Teacher Rene Martin said young people just out of high school are especially at risk.

"We keep saying ‘families’ and stuff, and all that’s screaming in my mind are the 19 and 20-year-olds that aren’t living at home now," Martin said. "We have to include them in this. We have to think about how are we reaching out to those kids that are out of their parents’ home and think that they’re cognitively ready to make decisions that, clearly, they’re not."

A few students attended the meeting, and Haines High School senior Esther Bower said "we all know that drinking’s bad for us." She said some of her peers turn to alcohol out of boredom.

"I think education is obviously a huge part of this, but another thing is the community should give us a place to go and hang out," Bower said. "How hard could it be to find an empty building, throw some pool tables in there, some couches?"

When Lowe asked who at the meeting was interested in becoming involved in an alcohol task force, a majority of attendees raised their hands, and dozens signed up following the meeting.

Bruce Bauer was one resident who committed to further involvement.

"I know what it’s like to almost lose one to alcohol recently here, and it’s awakening," Bauer said. "Don’t let it happen to anybody else – that’s why we’re here."

Another idea included officer Cassandra McEwen’s suggestion to set up an anonymous tip line at the police department.

Task force members had not yet been selected, and no other meetings had been scheduled as of press time Wednesday.

"This is a good start, and we fully recognize it’s only a start," Mayor Jan Hill said at the end of the meeting. "Every person in this room, actually every person in this community, has been affected and impacted by drinking and driving, and kids drinking and adults providing alcohol."