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Attention state liquor license holders

Donnet Sivertson, Bottineau

As if the pandemic wasn’t hurtful enough, are you aware that in 2020 the fire marshal’s office created new “rules” regarding your business that if not affecting you immediately and directly, they most certainly will eventually?

I say “rules” because thus far, I haven’t been able to find the law, statute, or administrative rule that has been voted on to make this a law, thus it appears to be a recommendation by our fire marshal, under the direction of our elected official, the attorney general. Please correct me if I’m wrong, anyone?

How did I find this out? I attempted to apply for a liquor license in March of 2020 after purchasing and remodeling an old chapel at Lake Metigoshe, north of Bottineau, making it an event center (occupancy 155). I looked into the fire code requirements prior to purchasing the building and was told by both the state fire marshal (Doug Nelson) and deputy fire marshal (Kimberly Ersland) that they are an assisting agency only and although the state does recommend an overhead sprinkler system in occupancies over 99, the AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) are to make the decision as to the requirements to pass fire inspection in their communities. Long story short, I got approval to proceed without a sprinkler system from my local fire department, (of which I have meeting minutes confirming) and I was granted a liquor license by the township and by the Bottineau County commissioners. However, in order to receive a state issued liquor license you have to have the “official” fire inspection done and I was told now (6 months after initial approval and after purchase and remodeling) that I would have to have my inspection done by the state as the local fire chief refused to do it. When the state did my fire inspection (without an overhead sprinkler system) the attorney general’s office denied my liquor license application.

So, at this point I researched other entities similar to mine in the state (without a sprinkler system), of which there are several (more than 10) that have been issued liquor licenses by the state since 2015, which is the date I was told by Kimberly Ersland (state deputy fire marshal) that the state fire marshal’s office started referencing the International Fire Code that recommends the sprinkler system. When I pointed this out, I promptly received an email from Liz Brocker, the attorney general’s PIO (Public Information Officer) that their office, the fire marshal’s office, and any other state entity would not be answering my questions or “anyone who represents her.” I later discovered on review of the public records filed for my business with the attorney general’s office, that this order of silence was issued by Doug Nelson, our appointed state fire marshal. I guess I hit a nerve.

Do I have your attention yet? You all know that you have to reapply and have your liquor license renewed every year. At the end of this year, are you going to be told you have to renew your fire inspection annually as well? If you do, it looks like you may be required to put in that sprinkler system. Are you considering selling your business? Your buyer will now have to install the sprinkler system in order to get a state issued liquor license (cost for mine exceeds $150,000). This gravely affects the resale value of several businesses in ND, and it appears to me that the fire marshal can make up rules as he pleases over and above what your local government entities feel is best for their communities, and apparently there is no need to have a law, statute or administrative rule on the books. Although, Governor Bergum’s office did state to me that changes in law, statutes, and administrative rules do have to go through the legislature. Perhaps the governor’s office should inform the attorney general’s office.

Don’t take my word for it, check out the newly published requirements on attorneygeneral.nd.gov under “Alcoholic Beverage License.” Also be sure to review the fire safety inspection report “Assembly Occupancy Inspection SFN 16838.” Make the effort to look up the quoted IFC codes that accompany each line item that affects your business because whoever typed this up misquoted the actual IFC codes in several areas. Type “2018 IFC” into a search engine and look up the actual quoted code. When I met with the fire marshal (Doug Nelson) and Chief Deputy Attorney General (Troy Seibel), I was told that this form is “just a guideline” and ultimately the local AHJ (local fire code official) can use it or make up their own. When I asked why the state overrides the local AHJ in my case, I was told, “we haven’t done anything wrong, and if you disagree, you can sue us.”

If you have questions after reading these, I have listed the names and numbers of your public officials that are obligated under the North Dakota Century Code to answer your questions. Don’t tell them your name though, and call from an unidentified number, as they’ll put you on a list and you’ll be flagged as a “don’t respond to this person or anyone who represents them.”

Doug Nelson, North Dakota Fire Marshal, 701-328-5550, ddnelson@nd.gov.

Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem, 701-328-2210, ndag@nd.gov.

Another source for questions would be your district representatives, of which you can find their names and numbers at legis.nd.gov.

You can contact your local fire chief, city council members, or county commissioners with questions, but I wish you luck with getting any answers. You will hear a lot of comments such as “you should have asked for forgiveness rather than permission, try flying under the radar, we have lack of training, I don’t get paid to do this, I’m not going to deal with this, and/or I don’t have the authority.” Watch the finger pointing begin.

Why am I informing you? I feel it is the right of ND citizens, business owners and potential business owners to be informed and it is up to us to hold our public officials accountable for decisions that affect us. I personally have nothing more to lose.

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