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Macbride alcohol ban takes legislative twist

Administrative rules committee sends amendment to legislature

DES MOINES– It’s up to the Iowa Legislature now.
The implementation of an alcohol ban at Lake Macbride State Park’s beach was delayed by a legislative review committee, and the Iowa House and Senate will have their chance to fix the problem.
A ban on “alcoholic liquor, beer, and wine” from beaches at Lake Macbride State Park and Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area in Linn County was approved by the Iowa Natural Resources Commission at an Aug. 11 meeting and the amended rule was to go into effect Wednesday, Oct. 5.
The members of Iowa’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC), however, placed the action on a “session delay,” which effectively postpones the ban until legislators take a whack at a solution to the rising number of alcohol-related incidents at the two park beaches.
The ARRC is a joint committee of the Iowa House and Senate which oversees state executive branch agency rule making.

“A session delay will send the rule to the leaders of both chambers (Speaker in the House and Senate President in the Senate) to assign to the appropriate committees,” explained ARRC vice-chair Dawn Pettengill (R-Mt. Auburn) via email Friday. “However, the committee is not required to act. If there is not action, the rule will go into effect after session.”
The Iowa Natural Resources Commission has been considering the action since two large fights in 2015 prompted a decision by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to close Lake Macbride State Park’s beach at 6 p.m. daily effective in June of last year.
A year later, the members of the Natural Resources Commission voted to approve a notice of intended action to amend the administrative rules governing state parks.
The amendment prohibited alcohol on the beaches at Macbride and Pleasant Creek, as well as in the surrounding 200-foot buffer of fenced-in land and the water area contiguous to the beaches.
The proposed amendment would not prevent an individual from reserving a shelter outside of the designated boundary and providing alcohol to guests.
Allowing alcohol elsewhere in the park while banning it from the beach seemed unfair to members of the ARRC; they also discussed the proposal in August with DNR state parks bureau chief Todd Coffelt present to answer questions.
Pettengill said she supported the ban, but didn’t support the restricting enforcement to the beach.
“If you’re going to ban alcohol, you ban it for everyone... even people renting facilities within 200 feet of the beach. No exceptions,” she stated.
At the August meeting, two committee members– Sen. Wally Horn (D-Cedar Rapids) and Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines)– opposed the amendment and expressed the opinion that more staff are needed.
During the high summer season, according to a memo posted with the Natural Resources Commission agenda for the June, “The ratio of park users to park personnel on these beaches has, at times, been estimated at over 500:1 (based on visual observations and vehicle counts).”
“Documented citations and incidences at these beaches attributed to alcohol include assaults, public intoxication (to the point of almost unconsciousness), littering, interference with official acts, disorderly conduct and minors in possession,” the memo continued.
Of 371 incidents and citations at Lake Macbride between 2010 and 2015, 221 involved alcohol at the beach according to information provided by Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokesperson Kevin Baskins. At Pleasant Creek, near Palo, 427 of 888 incidents and citations were associated with the beach, but only 90 of those were reported as related to alcohol usage.
Baskins said last week, Lake Macbride continued to have alcohol-related incidents, arrests and citations at the beach this summer.
“Volume was lower due in part to the early closing time,” Baskins stated via email. “We did not notice a dramatic drop in park users, more of a shift to coming earlier and leaving earlier.”
The DNR doesn’t track the number of visits, he said, but does its best to gauge attendance by how full the parking lot is and by random counts of people on the beach.
The Natural Resources Commission took public comment and held two public hearings in July. A total of 23 comments were received, 17 in support of the rule, four against, and two neutral, Baskins said.
Those in support of the ban expressed concerns over public safety, wanting the beaches to be more family-friendly and elderly-friendly, and a desire for staff to focus their time and efforts elsewhere.
Those opposed said it unfairly punished people who drink alcohol responsibly, is arbitrarily limited to the beach, and existing public intoxication laws need to be enforced.
Lake Macbride’s beach will continue to operate under reduced hours until further notice. The beach will be open from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m., while the hours for the rest of the park areas will remain from 4 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.