After more than an hour of discussion Tuesday night, Raymond’s Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to deny the Windham Rotary Club a liquor license for its 2006 Sebago Lake Rotary Club Derby Fest.
In an effort to draw even more people to the wildly popular event, now in its sixth year, Rotarians were hoping to add a mini-brew fest to their list of attractions. Located in a heated tent on the ice, this feature would sell tickets and issue glasses for participants to sample various brands of beer and ale. Proponents of the new attraction say earnings from the brew fest would increase the amount of money the group raises for charity, an amount that already tops $100,000.
But board members, and a number of Raymond residents who had contacted them, had concerns that serving alcohol would pose a safety risk with so many people and snowmobiles on the ice. They also believed the tent might change the character of the event.
In a phone interview, Selectman Dana Desjardins said in the two weeks’ time selectmen had to consider the liquor license request he had sought the opinions of Raymond constituents.
“It should be endorsed as a family event,” he said. “If there’s any way to encourage not involving alcohol, I’ll do my best.”
At the meeting, Chairwoman Betty McDermott encouraged the club to look for other ways to increase their earnings for charity, saying she always appreciated warming up with a good bowl of chowder and cup of hot cocoa.
“They feature it as a family thing and I think there are other ways to make the money,” McDermott said by phone on Wednesday.
But she did feel that Rotary Club members Chris Farmer and Tom Noonan gave an excellent presentation. She and other board members were particularly pleased with the snow fencing that the club plans to erect, which will define paths for the snowmobiles in order to reduce the chance of accidents with pedestrians.
Noonan, who organizes the event, said in a phone interview following the board’s decision that he believes the denial of a liquor license lost the Derby Fest “several thousands of dollars.”
“We’re still sorting out how to deal with this,” he said. “We’re obviously disappointed but we will abide by the board’s decision.
In their presentation, he and Farmer argued that drinking goes on at the event anyway – with many ice-fishermen choosing to imbibe in their shacks – and that the beer tent would offer visitors a controlled and safe environment in which to drink.
He and Farmer both say they believe the selectmen did not base their decision on the standards set in Maine’s state statutes under Title 28-A. Under 28-A in section 653, number 2, it states that municipal officers “shall indicate the reasons for their decision and provide a copy to the applicant” and provides six reasons why a license may be denied.
“I felt I conveyed our plan of action fairly well to the council,” Farmer said. “I am a bit confused by it (the board’s decision) because of the standard that was used. We have a right to appeal. However, we respect the wishes of the folks.”
Raymond Town Manager Don Willard felt Farmer’s presentation was “well thought-out and planned” but said the criteria under section 653 applies to licensing bars.
“This is totally different,” he said. “The selectmen decide if it’s an appropriate use of public space – they’re not bound by a set of criteria. They have the right to regulate an event on public property.”
Last year, an estimated 12,000 people attended Derby Fest. This year, the club hopes for even greater numbers during events at the Feb. 24-26 weekend.
But it will be without a beer tent.
“It’s not the way to promote a family oriented event with a lot of possibilities for people getting hurt,” Desjardins said. “Somebody’s got to take a stand. We did last night and I hope I didn’t offend too many people.”
Brave souls take the plunge at last year’s Polar Ice Dip at the Windham Rotary’s Derby Fest, the pinnacle of each year’s derby. Derby organizers tried adding a Brew Fest this year, but Raymond officials denied the necessary liquor license. File photo