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Repealing Prohibition?

Monmouth looks at ending state's last `dry town' law

MONMOUTH -- John Oberst believes allowing beer and wine sales will elevate and enhance Monmouth's economy.

Some residents have expressed concern that changing Monmouth's "dry" status will open the door to alcohol-related problems.

"The list of things we absolutely will not get outweighs the things we will," said Oberst, a 12-year resident. "We will not get a full-service grocery store or fine dining establishments.

"And we will not see the millions of dollars people are spending somewhere else because of our law."

In an economy that has forced city officials to shore up basic services with a general fund support fee, the initiative's supporters say beer and wine sales can only help.

This November marks the sixth time the repeal has made it to voters. It's not a full repeal. It's a watered-down version. Measure 27-58 would allow the sale of beer and wine (beverages of up to 14 percent alcohol) but not other alcoholic beverages.

It would allow Monmouth to become a stop along wine-tasting tours. With its 1,322 acres, Polk County ranks No. 2 in the state for vineyard production, ranking only behind Yamhill County.

"What Monmouth is saying to our farmers is, `You have a nice, high value crop here. Sell it somewhere else," Oberst said.

The last time an effort to repeal the law made it to voters was in 1976. So, why now? "Two big answers revolve around Measures 5 and 50," Oberst said.

"I love Monmouth, it's a fabulous city. I would like it to stay the same but it's already changed..." Remember The Marketplace?

He cited Waremart's arrival in Independence. "That was a $1.5 million assessment from the city and we said goodbye."

Still, there remains a steadfast core opposed to the measure.

The Rev. Stan Peterson worries about the effect of allowing beer and wine in a college town where young people are already tempted to drink.

"Talk to officials at the University of Oregon or Oregon State University and ask them what causes the most problems and takes the most dollars to address and you will find alcohol at the root almost every time," he said.

It was 143 years ago that Monmouth became dry. In fact, it has the distinction of being the only Oregon town where you can't buy alcohol.

That doesn't mean Monmouth residents don't drink.

"Many don't want to travel very far to enjoy a glass of wine or beer with their dinner or to be able to make store purchases," said former Fire Chief Don Milligan of Monmouth. "For some, their form of travel is on foot or the electric cart."

"If this passes we will be able to apply 21st century standards to all applicants to sell beer and wine," said Oberst. "We'd be working with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to ensure compliance."

Peterson points out that OLCC is the final word on liquor licenses, not local governments. He fears Monmouth would lose control of the process.

The city remains in control, Oberst said. It would take another petition drive before hard liquor could be sold in Monmouth. "The council cannot refer it."

The current initiative, which does not amend the city charter, is compromise, Oberst said. "It's a position between all or nothing."

Oberst said it would take a lot more than beer and wine to bring Monmouth to its ethical knees.

"It says a lot about Monmouth that even though this is an emotional issue, people have been gracious and polite. I think that says a lot about our community, that people feel free to disagree."

Dry law debated at forum

MONMOUTH -- Monmouth's dry law will be debated at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in Room 211 of the Instructional Technology Center at Western Oregon University.

Monmouth voters will vote in November to decide whether or not beer and wine can be sold within the city limits. Monmouth is one of the few dry towns left in Oregon.

John Oberst, chief petitioner for repealing the dry law, will face off against the Rev. Stan Peterson of Monmouth Christian Church.

After the debate, they will take questions from the audience.

There are tentative plans to televise the debate at a later date. If a telecast is scheduled the date and time will be published in the Itemizer-Observer.

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