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Paxson Lodge closes

The Paxson Lodge, a long-standing Richardson Highway landmark south of Delta Junction, has closed its doors.

With the shutdown of the lodge, effective this week, the pay telephone at the lodge is to be disconnected because the lodge was the power supply for the phone.

The lodge is at Mile 185 of the Richardson Highway at the junction with the Denali Highway.

The Copper Valley Telephone Cooperative told the Regulatory Commission of Alaska it is seeking alternative ways to power a public interest pay phone in the area.

Dave Dengel, the CEO of Copper Valley Telecom in Valdez, said he is not sure why the lodge is closing, but he believes it is because of the high cost of fuel.

“They have their own generator and I think they said they burn 100 gallons a day. You need to sell a lot of burgers to make that up,” he said.

He said owner Chet Eldridge talked to a phone company representative the other day and it “sounded like he is thinking of trying to sell gas and open a burger bus during the summer.”

Eldridge has been unavailable for comment.

John Schandelmeier, a longtime resident of the Paxson area, said the local population and the amount of winter traffic has dropped sharply in recent years. The population of Paxson was 40 according to the 2010 census, but Schandelmeier said there are few people living in the area today.

The Meier’s Lake Roadhouse, which is about 15 miles south of Paxson, remains open.

One factor in the economic situation is that enterprises that had been buying power from the lodge installed their own generating equipment for lower costs and reliability. For instance the hatchery was no longer buying power. Neither was the state.

The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said it had been paying $1.45 per kilowatt hour, a rate that went up to $2.06 per kilowatt hour last spring. The state says it can generate its own power for about 50 cents a kilowatt hour with its backup equipment.

"We agreed if they could get the price back to $1.45 we would commit to buying power from them again. That never happened and we are running our own generators today," said David Miller, maintenance director for the northern region of DOTPF.

Contact Dermot Cole at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcole.