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CODY — A request by managers of the Sleeping Giant ski area to renew their application for a liquor license will require a four-week delay to give the required public notice. But the ski hill may be able to use temporary catering permits for special events in the meantime.

“To do this right, we have to advertise for another pubic hearing,” Park County Commissioner Bill Brewer told a group of more than 30 people, mostly supporters of the application, on Tuesday.

Chairman Brewer was absent when commissioners declined to act on a liquor license request Nov. 17 by Hamilton Bryan, executive director of the ski area. Acting chairman Bucky Hall supported the request but was unable under procedural guidelines to move to grant it.

Commissioners Tim French, Jill Shockley Siggins and Dave Burke then cited concerns about drunken driving and maintaining a family atmosphere at the ski hill, which has never served alcohol.

County Attorney Bryan Skoric said Tuesday that because the Nov. 17 public hearing on the matter had closed, a new hearing would have to be scheduled to comply with state law.

“The safest way for the county and Sleeping Giant is to reapply for the liquor license. If the board were to grant a liquor license today, my assessment is that Sleeping Giant would be sitting on a faulty permit that anybody from the public could appeal,” Skoric said.

Under state law, Sleeping Giant must advertise a public hearing for four consecutive weeks before it can reapply, he said, so Jan. 5 is probably the earliest date that commissioners can hear the renewed request.

Public opinion on the issue is divided, with supporters of the license saying that nearly all nearby competing ski areas serve alcohol, and that drink sales are an important revenue source. Opponents have said that drink revenues are unlikely to be a deciding factor in the venture’s success.

Jim Nielson, a Cody oil and gas executive who has been the largest single financial supporter of the nonprofit group working to reopen the ski hill, wrote in a Nov. 24 letter to commissioners that making Sleeping Giant successful “is going to require us to provide all aspects of ski operations, which include food and beverage.”

“We certainly believe there are ways to accommodate both drinkers and nondrinkers at this family-friendly facility,” he wrote.

“All I want is some separation between the alcohol and the kids, and I’ll vote for it,” said Commissioner Tim French.

“But I hope people don’t forget ... a year ago, people came to us and said that it’s crucial that the county support a half-million dollar grant for this, and we did, to get the thing going. But it didn’t open last year,” French said.

“Then we were approached, and it was crucial that we have $50,000 from the forest reserve, to get it going, so this is what we did,” he said, adding that there were further delays in opening.

“There’s been some implication that maybe the success of the ski run lives or dies on this liquor license — some implication that we haven’t been doing anything. We just recently approved another $38,000 for the ski run,” he said.

Keith Dahlem, whose family was the previous operator of Sleeping Giant, said he once had plans to build a new lodge and serve alcohol on one floor of the proposed two-story building.

While liquor sales can help the bottom line, he said, “you always have to put the emphasis on the ski area first.”

Bryan said after the meeting that he did not know how much revenue alcohol sales might bring the ski area.

“Don’t think that we’re here to chastise you. You’ve made the linchpin for us,” former Sen. Al Simpson told commissioners. Simpson and his wife, Ann, have supported efforts to revitalize Sleeping Giant and winter recreation in the area.

State law already excludes children from areas where alcohol is consumed, Simpson said, adding that many other family activities in Park County feature alcohol.

“The Cody Stampede has plenty of booze. Labor Day in Meeteetse has plenty of booze. While the old man is drinking his suds, he’s lining his kid up for the three-legged race,” Simpson said.

He said that drunken driving can’t be eliminated by issuing some liquor licenses, but not others.

“You can’t play nanny to numbskulls,” Simpson said.

Sleeping Giant could legally serve beer at special events by getting a 24-hour malt beverage permit, or it could serve hard liquor by working with an existing license holder to use a catering permit, said County Clerk Kelly Jensen.

Wapiti District Ranger Terry Root said the U.S. Forest Service permit for Sleeping Giant allowed for a liquor license, and that properly permitted temporary events could include alcohol.

The Forest Service also does not prohibit individuals from bringing and consuming their own alcohol at Sleeping Giant or at other permitted sites in the forest, but there are federal regulations against public intoxication, Root said.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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