Iowa lawmakers delay booze ban at two state parks

Alcohol prohibition was set to take effect at Lake Macbride, Pleasant Creek

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DES MOINES — The party will roll on for the time being at Lake Macbride State Park and Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area.

The Iowa Natural Resource Commission had voted to ban liquor, beer and wine at beaches in those state facilities, but a bipartisan group of seven legislators Tuesday decided to delay implementing rules for the ban that was slated to take effect next month.

“I think it’s a bad precedent,” said Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, a member of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Committee, which voted to impose a “session delay” on the alcohol ban — meaning that the rules would take effect only if lawmakers fail to take up the issue during the 2017 session.

“We don’t have adequate manpower to patrol these areas and the way we address the problems is we shut down the beaches basically to anybody that wants to imbibe,” he said.

State Department of Natural Resources officials said they were taking the action after a recent analysis of citations on state beaches found a substantial number of incidents involving public intoxication, assault, littering and interference with official acts on those two beaches — one near Solon and one near Palo.

The DNR-proposed rule defined a “beach” as “that portion of state parks or recreation areas designated for swimming activity including the sand, a 200-foot buffer of land surrounding the sand or a designated area which is fenced in, and the water area contiguous to the beach as marked by swim buoys or swim lines.”

However, the alcohol ban would not apply to any rental facilities within the 200-foot buffer surrounding the sand or fenced-in area that have been officially reserved.

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, said he did not like that someone who paid a rental fee could consume alcohol in beach areas where non-renters could not.

“I just see a two-tiered system here that I personally have a problem with,” he said.

Other legislators said a better solution seemed to be beefed-up enforcement to deal with the problems of alcohol.

It also was unclear what the fine would be for violating the ban, and whether beaches would be roped off so drinkers could tell where the 200-foot buffer began. Olson also questioned whether park users would be able to drink alcohol while ice fishing this winter.

“We want to keep young college graduates in the state of Iowa, but we eliminate places where they might go enjoy themselves,” Olson said. “Why go to an Iowa state park if you can’t even drink a beer with a friend?”

Also Tuesday, the committee let stand revisions to Iowa’s water-quality standards approved in August by the state Environmental Protection Commission.

State regulators removed a benefit analysis from anti-degradation standards as part of a process that limits to 115 percent the cost of pollution-reducing upgrades or treatments.

The commission’s action was in response to a district court order. A judge had ruled that state DNR officials must ensure that projects seeking permits to add new pollution to a waterway have considered the environmental benefits of alternative, pollution-cutting designs regardless of costs.

A representative from the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Iowa Environmental Council spoke against the proposal, saying the change likely would lead to more pollution and undermine the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy with a one-size-fits-all approach based on cost alone.

However, John Tack of the DNR’s water division, said the change is designed to provide more regulatory certainty and clarity for small communities and businesses.

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