LINCOLN — A committee appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to explore problems associated with beer sales in the unincorporated village of Whiteclay, Nebraska, held its first meeting last week.

Ricketts, who was traveling in northwest Nebraska, attended the Feb. 1 meeting.

Taylor Gage, the governor's spokesman, said previous attempts to address challenges at Whiteclay were led by outsiders, but the new committee is made up of local leaders whom the governor encouraged to "work together on local solutions."

"This is not a task force or standing committee that reports to the governor. This is an ad hoc group of local leaders that will set a local agenda for improving the conditions in Whiteclay," Gage said in a statement.

The governor pledged in October to form a task force after residents in the Whiteclay area complained about increased problems with vagrants drinking on the street and harassing customers of two grocery stores in the community of 14 people. The pledge also came after a World-Herald story publicized the epidemic in the area of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is associated, in part, with beer sales at Whiteclay.

Alcohol is banned on the adjacent Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but four beer stores in Whiteclay sell the equivalent of almost 4 million cans of beer a year, mostly to reservation residents.

For years, politicians and Native American activists, locally as well as regionally, have wrestled with what to do about it; some have called for an end to alcohol sales there.

James Krotz, a member of the Sheridan County Board and a member of the committee, said the group included owners of grocery and liquor stores in Whiteclay, the county attorney and sheriff of Sheridan County, the mayor of Rushville and the head of a Whiteclay Christian outreach program.

He said members have agreed to not talk about potential solutions until they agree on a course of action, which he expected to happen before summer.

In a related matter, Native American activist Frank LaMere and documentary film producer John Maisch are scheduled to address the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission this morning in Lincoln about steps to shut down the Whiteclay stores.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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