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AK Beat: Big rate granted for steam in Fairbanks

Alaska Dispatch

Aurora Energy granted rate hike in Fairbanks: The Regulatory Commission of Alaska approved an interim and refundable rate cap for steam rates charged by Aurora Energy from $10.50 per thousand pounds of steam to $15. The RCA said it planned a review and a public hearing in Fairbanks. The additional costs to consumers will be refundable if the RCA determines that the request by Aurora for a rate hike is not justified. The company is seeking a rate cap of $20.45 per thousand pounds of steam, but said it would only raise rates on a gradual basis. Aurora says that under approved rates, it should collect about $1 million more per year than from its customers.

Anchorage wheelchair van transport company stops service: LifeMed Alaska, a medical transportation company that operates 13 wheelchair-accessable vans for Anchorage's disabled and injured, said on Thursday it is cancelling its wheelchair van service and laying off all its drivers. LifeMed said the move is a result of recent changes passed by the Anchorage Assembly in November. The changes would regulate LifeMed's wheelchair transport vans as if they were vehicles for hire – like taxi cabs and limousines. That means LifeMed's 13 vans would need to be inspected periodically by a mechanic picked by the city, require an annual fee be paid for each van, force the van drivers to get licensed by the city, and mandate that video cameras be installed. LifeMed said its vans make an average of 17,000 round trip transports each year -- ferrying immobile people to the doctor, the hospital, and to pharmacies. A press release from the company said it is working help patients that have already made transportation reservations with LifeMed.

Driving hazardous due to Fairbanks freezing rain: A freezing rain advisory in effect in the Interior city of Fairbanks has closed roads and caused hazardous driving conditions for major highways to and from town. The freezing rain advisory is in effect until 4 p.m. on Thursday. Ice accumulations of less than one-tenth of an inch are expected, the National Weather Service writes. Travel will be difficult, and ice accumulations on power lines and tree branches may cause power outages. Chena Ridge Road is closed between Chena Hills and Chena Pump Road due to road conditions, according to Fairbanks police. Road conditions for Fort Wainwright are “black,” and drivers are advised to use extreme caution. The Parks Highway, from milepost 344 to 362, just outside of Fairbanks, is experiencing hazardous driving conditions, according to Alaska 511. On the Richardson Highway, between Fairbanks and North Pole, hazardous driving conditions are also reported. Chena Hot Springs Road west of Fairbanks, the Steese Highway and Elliot Highway north of Fairbanks all report hazardous driving conditions. Fairbanks International Airport was closed Thursday mornings with flights canceled until runways could be cleared of ice, said Angie Spear, spokesperson for the airport.

Mat-Su school closures: The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District closed eight schools because of freezing rain and slick roads on Thursday. The district said it closed Glacier View Elementary School, Trapper Creek Elementary School, Talkeetna Elementary School, Willow, Su Valley Junior/Senior High School, Houston Middle School, Houston High School, and Big Lake Elementary School.  All other schools in the Mat-Su district remain open. Despite the school's closure, district officials said a wrestling tournament will still be held at Houston Middle School this afternoon. The forecast for the area calls for temperatures in the high 30s, with a mix of snow and rain.  For information on Mat Su school closures -- including after-school activities -- visit the district's website.

Traffic stop turns up heroin: A Valley traffic stop Wednesday ended with a Wasilla woman in jail on drug charges, including for heroin, according to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers reported pulling over 29-year-old Tia Petito, of Wasilla, at about 8:35 p.m. Wednesday on Bogard Road near Seward Meridian Parkway. Petito was initially charged with driving with a suspended license, said troopers, but a search at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility found several baggies of methamphetamine and heroin hidden in her clothing. Petito was additionally charged with second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, two counts of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance and first-degree promoting contraband, troopers said. She was held on $12,250 bail.

Flatfish fisheries get certified: Alaska flatfish -- which include flounders and soles, from fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea -- recently achieved Responsible Fisheries Management certification, according to a bulletin from FIS, the website of Fish Information and Services. The report says of the fishery that it’s “one of the most proactive fisheries in the world dedicated to reducing bycatch through collaborative science and cooperative fishing.” The certification comes from Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute which, in addition to certifying Alaska fisheries, is also charged with promoting them. The state is in discussions with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which threatened to drop fish from Alaska fisheries from its stores after ASMI dropped out of the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification program to start its own.