Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bear Butte alcohol license hearings sure to draw opponents

Bear Butte alcohol license hearings sure to draw opponents
By Joe Kafka, The Associated Press Thursday, June 12, 2008
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Alcohol license requests for a sprawling campground, bar and concert area near a Black Hills butte that's sacred to Native Americans will be opposed at a July 1 hearing in Sturgis.

An opponent of the Broken Spoke Campground, formerly known as Sturgis County Line, complains it will disturb Bear Butte's tranquil aura.

For centuries, members of various Native American tribes have gone to Bear Butte to pray, fast and hold religious ceremonies. They say noise from large campgrounds and bars in the area, which have sprung up over the years to cater to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, disrupt the normally peaceful setting.

Joe Murphy, president of a Boston firm that plans to buy the Broken Spoke Campground and is leasing it until the alcohol license issue is settled, said Thursday the business will try to be sensitive to qualms about noise and commotion.

"We want to make any accommodation we need to to work with anybody's beliefs," Murphy said. "We respect their religious views and hope we don't disturb them. We're happy to sit down and listen to our critics."

Murphy is president of Target Logistics, an international company that provides housing, transportation, life support and hospitality services. He said Target Logistics wants to buy the campground from Jay Allen, who lost his beer and alcohol licenses last year.

Allen also owns Broken Spoke properties in Laconia, N.H.; Daytona Beach, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Murphy said his firm is negotiating for them, too.

Tamra Brennan, founder of a grass-roots group seeking to protect Bear Butte, said she will urge the Meade County Commission to deny alcohol licenses for the Broken Spoke Campground. Brennan, who lives near the base of Bear Butte, said she complained about noise during last year's motorcycle rally and was shrugged off.

Campground noise was so loud one night that it rattled the windows in her house until 2 a.m., she said. Brennan said strobe lights were shone on Bear Butte at night, and the campground manager didn't understand why she would complain about it.

"There are people trying to pray in solitude and peace that are up on the mountain at all hours," she said.

Bear Butte, an ancient volcano that never erupted, is not like a church that has services only on Sundays, said Brennan, an Eastern Cherokee Indian and founder of Protect Sacred Sites Indigenous People, One Nation.

"The land is our church," she said. "We don't just go into a church once a week and spend one hour and then that's it. This is not a religion; this is a spirituality."

The 4,422-foot peak has been a state park since 1961 and is protected as a National Historic Landmark. It has a special area set aside for Indian ceremonies, and regulations prevent other visitors from interfering with those who are praying.

However, the butte is surrounded by private property and growing commercialization.

Joell Romick, the county commission's administrative assistant, said both an on-sale liquor license and a beer license are being sought for the Broken Spoke Campground.

The campground features a 25,000-square-foot bar, or the equivalent of a building that's 250 feet long and 100 feet wide.

In 2006, Native Americans and others opposed initial approval of a liquor license for Jay Allen because the campground is within three miles of Bear Butte.

Allen lost the beer license for his campground a year ago after commissioners received complaints he was not paying his bills.

Alcohol licenses can be denied on the basis of character and location.

Commissioners said 10 months of unpaid bills spoke to the character of Allen, an Arizona-based motorcycle rally entrepreneur.

In December, the county commission rejected Allen's renewal application for an on-sale liquor license, again citing character issues after some contractors who did work at the campground claimed he had not paid them.

Allen said the campground had been a financial headache and that some contractors overcharged or didn't finish their jobs.

Later, a judge said the county commission must reconsider denial of the liquor license because of the proposed change in ownership. The commission balked and requested an intermediate appeal from the state Supreme Court, but that has been denied, Romick said.

Murphy said plans are in the works to keep the campground open all summer, beginning next year. A swimming pool is being added along with other improvements for campers, and it will be geared to families at times other than rally week, he said.

"We want to make it a nice, quality family experience," Murphy said.

"We want to make a solid commitment to the Sturgis area," he added. "We're hiring as many local contractors as we can, and we're trying to bring jobs and money into the area."

Brennan said the nearly one-square-mile campground is a blight on the area. It will feature noisy concerts during the Aug. 4-10 motorcycle rally and will offer helicopter rides over the butte, she said.

"To add helicopter rides over Bear Butte is just appalling," Brennan said. "This is complete disregard for Native American beliefs and the respect of the people who are in ceremonies on the hill."

Helicopter rides over the mountain will violate two federal laws dealing with freedom of religion for Native Americans, she said.

But Murphy said he doubts many helicopter rides will be staged.

"If we had someone who wants to go for a helicopter ride, we would make the helicopter available to them at the campground," he said. "If someone asks to fly over Bear Butte, we'd take them unless it's not allowed."

Murphy noted the area has several other large campgrounds and bars.

"The rally period is a very intense, and whether we're there or not, we're not having any more effect on Bear Butte than the other campgrounds in the area," he said.

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