SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah's last "dry" communities appeared on track Wednesday to maintain its eight-decade prohibition on alcohol sales after voters rejected a measure to allow sales that proponents said would boost tourism and opponents said would threaten the small city's way of life.
Following Tuesday's vote in Blanding, the count of ballots was 573 in favor of keeping the ban and 299 for overturning it, according to unofficial results as of Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor-elect Joe Lyman said officials did not have details about how many more ballots still had to be counted in the city of about 3,500 but expected it was a small number and wouldn't change the outcome.
The city in Utah's southeastern corner has seen an influx of tourists in recent years, especially with the naming of the new Bears Ears National Monument nearby. Some restaurant and hotel owners say that even though most locals are Mormon and avoid alcohol, Blanding needs to accommodate drinkers.
"I just feel bad for those who want a bottle of wine or a glass of wine with your meal," said Sharon Guymon, a restaurant owner who pushed to allow beer and wine sales after years of customer complaints. "I don't think a glass would hurt anybody."
Others argued prohibition is key to the city's character and worried that allowing alcohol could lead to public drunkenness and other problems.
Utah has only about a half-dozen dry communities, according to state alcohol regulators. Blanding's vote to reconsider its ban on beer and wine follows similar debates in other dry communities across the country in recent years.
Blanding has been dry since the 1930s, according to city officials. Talk of repealing the prohibition has surfaced periodically but 2017 was the first time the issue made it onto the ballot.
The conservative community, a stopover for road trips between Denver, southern Utah's national parks and the Grand Canyon, has been a hotspot in decades-old debates over who controls land in the West, including the Bears Ears National Monument.
Many locals opposed the monument, saying the U.S. government unnecessarily locked up too much land by declaring the area a protected monument, and the declaration itself will flood the area's Native American ruins and remote landscapes with visitors.
Several opponents of alcohol sales said they hoped keeping a prohibition in Blanding could prevent the town from becoming overrun with tourists like the red rock vacation destination of Moab an hour north.
Lyman said he thought voters rejected alcohol sales because they were worried about being inundated with tourism and that more local adults and teens would abuse alcohol.1 comment on this story
Lyman, who voted against allowing alcohol sales, said he believed the initiative failed by a large enough margin that it will be years before residents reconsider the ban.
In the meantime, Blanding's drinkers can buy beer at a convenience store 3 miles outside of town, or wine, liquor and more at a state-run liquor store about 20 miles away.
Guymon said she'll keep serving non-alcoholic beer on her steakhouse's menu and may offer non-alcoholic wines.
"The Europeans are still going to be disappointed when they come here that they can't get a glass of wine with their meal," Guymon said. "That's mainly what I was pushing for."