RALEIGH — Reports have arisen of various enforcement agencies issuing citations and conflicting orders to Charlotte-area pubs, clubs and bars in relation to Gov. Roy Cooper’s continued Phase 2 restrictions.
Pubs and bars in Charlotte that have kitchens reopened their dining rooms on May 22 along with restaurants as part of Phase 2. Local bars could sell beer and wine to go did so as well, but some of those establishments allege they have been told they have to shut down entirely.
There were reports that claimed the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Dept. (CMPD) was handing out citations while others reported Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officers and Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) agents were involved. It turned out ALE was not involved in those inspections, but CMPD and ABC were.
Charlotte television station WBTV reported that there were more than 50 establishments visited by CMPD’s ABC unit. Many of the establishments were private clubs, which were cited for violations by CMPD but should not have been if they were within the approved guidelines for restaurants detailed in executive order 141.
The Mecklenburg County ABC Board Law Enforcement Division’s executive director David McCoy told the Charlotte Observer that “Something changed this week at the state level,” and that “we are about as confused in this as you are.”
ALE is the primary enforcement agency responsible for North Carolina laws involving alcoholic beverage control, lottery and tobacco. ABC reports directly to the governor but is housed in NC Department of Public Safety.
Erin E. Bean, Special Agent and Public Information officer with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol Law Enforcement Division said in an email to North State Journal that there “have been several instances recently where local ABC officers were mistaken as ALE special agents and took enforcement action on a business which did not align with ALE’s practices, therefore creating confusion.”
“ALE special agents did not take any enforcement action regarding the governor’s Executive Orders last week in Charlotte,” Bean wrote in the email. She also distinguished local ABC officers as separate law enforcement entities from ALE.
Bean said that nothing has changed under Phase 2 and that ALE does communicate with ABC on a regular basis but said that “some businesses continue to operate solely as private bars against the governor’s Executive Orders.”
“Enforcement action taken by ALE special agents with regards to non-compliant businesses, whether criminal or administrative, is due to the establishment not complying after training was provided on Executive Order 141 and documented warnings to adhere to the Executive Order,” said Bean.
Meanwhile, in the mountains near Banner Elk, state officials have demanded the closure of an all-outdoor attraction. The Wilderness Run Coaster was told that because they were an “amusement park and outdoor entertainment” business, they were prohibited from operating.
“With heavy hearts as we have taken the measures asked of us to limit the amount of people coming and other COVID precautions, we have to announce we are closed until further notice starting tomorrow, Saturday Aug 22nd, 2020 due to the State of North Carolina shutting us down stating we are an amusement park and outdoor entertainment and cannot operate,” the Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster posted on its Facebook page about the closure. “We sincerely apologize to our patrons and guest that have registered and had planned to visit our location. Please follow for all updates.”
Wilderness Alpine Coaster had been operating safely by requiring masks, employing approved cleaning methods and avoiding crowds by scheduling appointments for rides.
The coaster, located near Sugar Mountain, is a veteran-owned and operated by Army veteran Eric Bechard, his wife Tara and their daughter, Ashley Brown. Riders ascend 770 feet to the top of the track in a way similar to a ski-lift. The fun begins as the coaster car heads down the 2,100-foot track speeding through straightaways, turns and loops.
Disbelief was the reaction from Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on the closure.
“This is insanity! The business operates outside in the fresh mountain air. They distanced their customers via reservations. They required masks,” tweeted Forest. “Now the heavy hand of government won’t let them operate because of a one-size-fits all mandate from Gov. Cooper.”
Forest, the Republican running against Cooper this November, has been vocal about the detrimental effect of the governor’s blanket restrictions on businesses as well as Cooper’s poor handling of nursing home outbreaks and overly risk-averse plan for reopening public schools.
Forest announced in June that he would be suing Cooper over his executive orders, which he did. The suit was fast-tracked through the N.C. Business Court, where a judge ruled against the requested temporary restraining order.
“If Cooper has 100% of the power during a declared emergency,” then the governor also “has 100% of the responsibility” for the results said Forest in a press release after the ruling.
“Ultimately, the people of North Carolina will make the final decision in November,” Forest said.