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Alaska Gold Rush town struggles with hard-drinking legacy

AL Grillo/Associated Press

A proposed law in Nome, Alaska, would prohibit intoxication in public places such as the city’s main street.

By Rachel D’Oro Associated Press 

ANCHORAGE — The old Gold Rush town of Nome on Alaska’s western coast is trying again to address hard drinking that is deeply entrenched there — this time with a proposed law prohibiting intoxication in public places such as the city’s main street, where people can be seen stumbling along or passed out near tourist shops.

The measure would for the first time outlaw intoxication in public rights of way, such as Nome’s Front Street and its sea wall. It targets those with a blood-alcohol content of at least 0.08 percent — the same threshold for driving while intoxicated.

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But it is getting a tepid response from some city council members and citizens while stirring debate on how to stem a problem that has seemed to worsen this summer.

City Manager Tom Moran was directed by the council to introduce the measure, and even he says it’s an attempt ‘‘to do something.’’

Locals say such a law would unfairly target residents who are struggling with alcoholism while failing to address root causes. Critics also say the likely targets would include a few dozen constant street drinkers who can’t afford to pay fines, even though the final version of the measure doesn’t propose any penalties. An incorrect fine schedule in the original draft was removed.

The measure could be amended to include a fine if it passes, Moran said.

Nome’s boozing history was born with the town after gold was discovered in 1898, bringing scores of hard-drinking fortune seekers. The gunslinger Wyatt Earp ran the most ornate of 50 saloons lining Front Street in the Gold Rush heyday.

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Nearly 120 years later, there are 13 establishments that sell alcohol along the hardscrabble downtown business district.