By Lisa Loomis

At its annual meeting with liquor license holders, the Waitsfield Select Board got an earful about how difficult it is for local business owners to prevent "professional drinkers" from driving under the influence. 

The board met with all but four liquor license holders at its March 24 hearing. This has been an annual practice for the Waitsfield Select Board for the past several years. Local businesses are required to attend in order to have their liquor licenses renewed.

At the recent meeting, select board members discussed their concerns about law enforcement officials stating publicly that 17 DUI arrests in January and February are too many.

"What we heard from the sheriff is that they are concerned about the levels of intoxication which are four to five times over the legal limit," said board member Roy Hadden.

"What's stopping people from picking up a case of beer in New Hampshire and drinking it at their condo and then driving? People who seriously drink to that magnitude, they are not typically drinking in bars. They are drinking at home; they are professionals. It's pretty hard to drink four to five times the legal limit. The average person can't drink more than two or three beers. To get to five times over the legal limit takes a professional drinker," said Bernie Isabelle, owner of Egan's Restaurant.

John Morris, owner of the Localfolk Smokehouse, said it was problematic for servers to determine the levels of inebriation of people who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol. He pointed out that there are two different standards at play, one for servers and one for drivers. Servers, he said, are taught not to serve people who are obviously intoxicated, slurring, staggering, red-eyed, etc. Drivers are not to drive with blood alcohol counts at or above .08 percent.

"That bar-hopping situation occurs where an experienced drinker might start at the mountain after skiing and have two beers, then go to dinner and have two more and then a couple more at one bar, then on to my bar. Individual locations are going to have a hard time spotting someone. A server stops serving when someone is clearly intoxicated or has had enough drinks in one time period. When someone's doing that kind of a tour, the bar that gave them the last two beers goes on the books as the last to serve them," said Morris.

"I think it's unfair for the state to write a letter to <MI>The Valley Reporter<D> saying that business owners are not caring about their liability, because there are two different legal standards involved. People can blow two times the legal limit and you don't see them slur or stumble if they are experienced drinkers," he continued.

"You also have to look at it for what the procedure is for cutting someone off. When someone appears visibility intoxicated they have to leave our business. Where are they going to go? Out to their cars. It's not within our rights to take their keys. What option is there?" he said.

Dan Perrara from the Purple Moon Pub concurred that the liquor law was two-sided.

"Once someone is obviously intoxicated they're not allowed to remain on the property. And you have to cut them off before they become intoxicated. Once you realize they are, you can't keep them around to sober them up and drink water for a few hours," he said.

Tim Piper from the Round Barn said that the local business community was very responsive and worked cohesively on preventing over serving. He said the 17 DUI arrests cited by the law enforcement may not have involved drivers who even drank in local bars.

"Remember that condominiums account for over 50 percent of the bed base here, condos and second homes. There's not one licensee in this room who can do anything about their behavior," Piper said.

"I've heard a couple of things from you guys here tonight that mesh together in addressing this problem. There might be an unmet business opportunity for someone to provide taxi service. Sometimes the obvious answer is the right one. We have a community where licensees are doing a topnotch job and if the guy in the condo is tanking up and then driving we need to be more aggressive in catching those drivers. For people in bars who find they are over the edge, we have to find solutions for them other than kicking them out where they'll go to their cars," said select board member Bill Parker.