2013-04-26 / Front Page

Bug Light beer at issue

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland’s Buy Local organization will host what it calls a “signature event” this summer at Bug Light Park to celebrate the local businesses in the community, but it’s unclear whether Sea Dog Brewery will be allowed to participate.

The South Portland microbrewery wants to set up a beer garden at the festival, scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 17. However, a city ordinance currently prohibits any alcohol sales on city property. The South Portland City Council met in a workshop on Monday, April 22 to discuss whether to change the ordinance to allow the beer garden.

The council appeared split on the decision. Some argued that alcohol has no place in the parks at a family event. Others said they had no problem with Sea Dog selling alcohol in a limited, responsible manner in a fencedin space.

Councilor Jerry Jalbert said the council should discuss the matter further at a future meeting, when the public has more of a chance to offer input. Jalbert said alcohol sales would likely bring more young adults to the celebration, but he cautioned there may be some risks associated with the beer garden.

“We don’t want to have our parks be some sort of little honky-tonk party town,” Jalbert said.

Councilors Michael Pock and Al Livingston argued those who attend the festival this summer don’t need alcohol to have a good time, and opposed any further discussion of an ordinance change.

“There are enough places in this town you can go have a beer,” Pock said. “I don’t think drinking is a family value.”

Chapter 18-7 of in the South Portland Code of Ordinances prevents anyone from possessing beer, wine or liquor “upon any park, beach, pond or other recreational property owned by the city.”

The city has discussed changing the ordinance before. Baystock, a music festival held in Portland, approached the city with a request to waive the ordinance in 2003 to hold an event at the Wainwright Athletic Complex. Former South Portland Councilor Maxine Beecher received thousands of signatures that year asking not to waive the ordinance. She brought those signatures to the meeting, and said she does not agree with the argument that alcohol sales should be approved to open up a revenue stream for the city.

“I’m appalled we would sell ourselves that short. Our parks are pristine. They are safe for our children and the last thing we need is a few bucks because of alcohol,” Beecher said.

But April Cohen-Tracy, president of South Portland Buy Local, said she is confident Sea Dog Brewing Company will not create an unsafe environment at the summer festival. The beer garden would be enclosed by a fence, with trained bar staff checking IDs, and no one would be allowed to leave the beer garden with a beverage. She compared the event to other family atmospheres where alcohol is sold, such as Portland Sea Dogs games at Hadlock Field.

Cohen-Tracy said preventing alcohol sales won’t stop South Portland Buy Local from putting on the festival, but she wants to include all the businesses in the organization.

“We want to have a festival. We want to provide a great community event for South Portland residents,” Cohen-Tracy said. “The beer is important to us because Sea Dog is important to us.”

Mayor Tom Blake said he would be in favor of the beer garden if it is controlled in a responsible manner, with a drink limit put in place by festival organizers.

“When we talk about ‘Buy Local,’ we have to practice that. Maine is one of the top three states in the nation for microbrews,” Blake said. “It’s part of buying local. That’s what it’s about.”

Blake’s desire to discuss the matter further was shared by three other councilors, Jalbert, Linda Cohen and Patti Smith. The council did not set a date for the future workshop for that discussion.

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