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Councilors debate beer tent at fair

HOULTON, Maine — Town councilors on Monday evening debated at length whether to allow a beer tent at a concert during the Houlton Agricultural Fair.

In the end, the group opted to allow the Houlton Agricultural Fair Association to move forward with the idea.

The tent will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on July 1 during the John Anderson concert. A midway, exhibits, animals, and a demolition derby are also scheduled during the fair, which runs June 30 to July 4.

Town Manager William MacDonald said during Monday night’s Council meeting that he had checked with the town attorney and found that there were no legal issues that prevented the beer tent from being set up.

He said that there were precedents set for the decision. In 2009, a liquor license was granted for a beer tent at the base of Derby Hill, and in 2013, a liquor license was granted for an event in Riverfront Park.

Country music artist John Anderson will headline this 2018 Houlton Agricultural Fair, marking the first time in nine years the fair has offered a concert. (Courtesy of Houlton Fair)

“The fair committee has been very open to discussions with police and the town,” said MacDonald. “They will have secure entrances, trained servers and the police department there as well.”

Councilor Jane Torres supported the idea, but council Chairman William McCluskey came out against it.

“I am a supporter of the fair, and the fair has been here a long time without a beer tent,” he said. “The fair is a family focused event made up primarily of children. This may not be in the spirit of a family event. You are going to have a ton of pedestrians and children. People could be impaired, whether they are walking or driving. I think it is a potential for disaster.

“There are kids in our community that deal with drug and alcohol abuse at home,” McCluskey continued. “To go to the fair is a highlight of the year for some of them. Its pretty unfair for them to go and see a drunk relative or stranger. There is a time for everything, and this is the wrong place and the wrong time.”

Torres disagreed.

“I don’t see anyone having more than one or two drinks,” she said. “They are going to listen to the concert.”

Councilor Hal Britton also said that he was against the idea.

Paul Cleary, chairman of the fair committee, said that other fairs have had beer tents for years.

“We confiscate more beer at our gates than at any other event in Houlton,” he said. “We’ve had people arrested when we didn’t have a beer tent for consuming alcohol on site.”

Rosa McNally also said she didn’t see an issue.

“I think if they were offering hard liquor, we would have a different view,” she said. “I think people will be responsible.”

Councilor Sue Tortello noted that the state has strict liquor regulations, so she also said she did not see a problem with the idea.

In the end, the measure passed, with only Britton casting a vote against the beer tent.

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