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Tribes, county working on liquor license rules

Aug 30, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

For the first time in decades, serious discussion is taking place on re-establishing alcohol sales on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

A memorandum of understanding about granting liquor licenses to businesses on the Wind River Indian Reservation is being drafted cooperatively among the Fremont County Commission and the tribal governments of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

The three governing bodies already are working under the agreement spelled out in the document, said Fremont County Commission chairman Doug Thompson.

Alcohol sales on the reservation have been banned for decades, but recent activity has sparked interest in the possibility of a change in policy.

South of the river

Under the MOU, if a business that is within the exterior boundaries of the reservation and located south of the Wind River applies for a liquor license, it must first submit an application to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. If they approve the permit, the business has to apply for a Fremont County license as well.

"I don't think it'll change anything. It just puts it down on paper," Thompson said. "Alcohol is a problem throughout our county; (the MOU) just allows the governing bodies to say where it is."

The tribes and county have a difference of opinion regarding land within the reservation that is north of the Wind River.

"(This is) not an agreement on what happens north of the river," Thompson said. "I don't think we want to get into that big jurisdiction battle with the tribes."

New requests

Thompson said the MOU arose out of a meeting between county and tribal attorneys addressing a number of issues. It also is timely because the county recently has received requests for liquor licenses that would be covered by the MOU.

But Thompson said a recently denied application from a business in that region did not drive the MOU's development.

An application from the Burris Roadhouse and Trading Company was rejected while attorneys for the two governing bodies were drafting the MOU.

The Burris Roadhouse, which sits roughly fives miles northwest of Crowheart on U.S. Highway 26, had sought a license to sell malt beverages, such as beer.

Commissioners denied the application Aug. 6 after receiving word that the tribes had turned it down. In May, they had approved the license for the Burris Roadhouse contingent on approval by the Joint Business Council of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

The document

Under the draft MOU, the Fremont County Commission would agree to notify the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes if the board receives a liquor license application for a business located south of the Wind River and within the exterior boundaries of the reservation.

Commissioners would further agree only to approve the license if the tribes approved it.

According to the MOU, if the two tribes receive a liquor license application for a location within the aforementioned area, they would notify the commissioners. The tribes also would have to tell the county board of any action they take.

Work in progress

The formal agreement is not finished. Commissioners sent the draft document to the Joint Business Council with other details to work out.

Thompson thought the tribes should not be responsible for notifying the county if they received a liquor license application for all locations within the reservation. They only should be responsible for informing commissioners for applications for locations south of the Wind River.

"We don't want to ask them to do any more than we're willing to do and vice versa," Thompson said.

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone business councils could not be reached for comment by press time.