Narrow margin splits DNR commission: Alcohol ban not in place for 2011

Wednesday, September 15, 2010
A multi-agency effort patrolled the Gull Point Beach and surrounding roadways during the 2010 July Fourth holiday to limit the impact of escalating binge drinking at state parks in the area. The DNR voted against an alcohol ban at Gull Point and other DNR-operated beaches in the county at their September meeting. (File photo)

A 4-3 vote by the DNR Commission halted a ban on alcohol consumption at DNR operated public beaches in Dickinson County for the 2011 Fourth of July holiday.

The vote accompanied the gathering of public commentary on the ban, collected by the DNR in letter and online formats over several months prior to the Sept. 9 commission meeting.

Diverse commissioners differ on ban's necessity

Greg Drees, a DNR Commissioner from Arnolds Park, voted in favor of the ban, but said fellow commissioners who voted against it "felt that the ban was essentially a violation of civil liberties and some of them felt like it unfairly targeted young adults."

"Although I'm disappointed with the vote, I have to accept it, it's the way our process works," Drees said. "We're seven commissioners from diverse backgrounds and we're not always going to see eye-to-eye on the issues."

Drees said his opposition was due in part to a shift in dynamics of the Gull Point over the years into a crowd who take use the park as "a binge drinking opportunity" with "crowds (that) had become so large and unruly that it had become a safety issue."

He also said his views were impacted by commentary from Robert Garrison, law enforcement bureau chief for the Iowa DNR, who spoke in favor of the ban from a safety standpoint.

"When (Garrison) and DNR personnel, parks and law enforcement see it as a safety issue, then I'm going to listen," Drees said. "These are highly regarded law enforcement officials whose guiding principal is public safety. I think their message was ignored by this vote."

Safety vs. civilian rights

Garrison, who spent more than 30 years with the Iowa State Highway Patrol, including eight as Chief, says his support of the ban, and advice for commissioners prior to the vote, was intended to balance civilian rights with the need to maintain a safe environment.

"I reminded them (the commissioners) ... that each one of us have (a) responsibility to fulfill," Garrison said. "We need to make sure that we're not only protecting people's rights but we're taking care of the people that use the beaches and the waterways of Iowa and doing our best to make sure that when they go there, they enjoy a safe environment."

Multi-agency efforts step in

During the 2010 July Fourth holiday, a multi-agency effort increased law enforcement man power at the Gull Point beach and surrounding roadways, drawing additional personnel from other state parks and state-patrolled roadways.

Garrison knows that, without an alcohol ban in place, increased patrols will again be an issue during the 2011 July 4 holiday.

"We pulled people from different parks and different enforcement areas in Iowa to come into the area to augment the process," Garrison said. "It's going to (continue to) draw down on resources that could be deployed across the rest of the state."

Future ban unlikely

Drees feels the potential to open the ban up for debate again won't be in the near future.

"It's a dead issue now," Drees said. "This is the second time in several months that the proposal has been voted down so I don't think people are going to revisit it again."

Garrison hopes it doesn't take a "worst case scenario" for a ban to finally be approved.

"I think there is two things that could come about to make the change," Garrison said. "First of all it would have to be the opinion of the people making that decision and then secondly, and we hope to never get to this, sometimes things move because of some exaggerated circumstances like someone's death and I would hope that that would never come about."

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