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Avista: Surcharge still needed

Avista Utilities blames this summer’s dry weather for cutting into its electricity production at regional dams. The result: the company wants its Idaho ratepayers to continue paying a surcharge that was initially tacked onto bills five years ago.

The move will not increase rates, according to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

Avista uses the surcharge, now at 2.45 percent, to offset costs that go above and beyond the utility’s base rates, such as a power shortage that forces the company to buy electricity from other companies.

The surcharge was first put in place following the 2000-2001 Western energy crisis that left Avista in a $78 million hole supplying its Idaho customers.

That debt had been reduced to $1.5 million earlier this year. But the dry summer, along with climbing natural gas prices, has left Avista short on electricity. Making up for it has pushed the company’s debt back up to $3.2 million. Within 10 months, Avista is on pace to witness its debt climb to $8.7 million.

If the scenario changes and the debt is erased, the surcharge could be eliminated.

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Uncle’s opens at NorthTown

Uncle’s Inc. has opened a store at NorthTown Mall.

Uncle’s Games Puzzles & More, which carries a mix of popular and offbeat games, elaborate chessboards and other offerings, moved into 2,700 square feet of space on the mall’s lower level.

Hans Isaacson, one of three partners in the business, said this is the fifth store for the company. The locally-owned Uncle’s Inc. has three stores in Spokane County and stores in Bellevue and Redmond.

Uncle’s opened a downtown Spokane store in 1995, which shares a Main Street building with Auntie’s Bookstore. In 2002, the company opened a store on the second floor of Spokane Valley Mall.


Judge says Vioxx award ‘excessive’

The $50 million compensatory damage award in a federal Vioxx case this month was “grossly excessive,” and a new trial must be held to decide how much drugmaker Merck & Co. must pay a retired FBI agent who suffered a heart attack after taking the painkiller, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon ruled the jury’s verdict that Merck was liable in the case was reasonable, but he said no reasonable jury could have found that the effects of the heart attack that Gerald Barnett suffered in 2002, after 2 1/2 years on the drug, entitled him to $50 million in compensatory damages.


Attendants see little hope for talks

Northwest Airlines Corp. and its flight attendants, locked in a dispute that could end in a strike, offered sharply differing views on Wednesday on whether they can solve their problems at the negotiating table.

Last week a federal district judge blocked random, unannounced job actions planned by flight attendants, who are trying to force Northwest to negotiate a better deal. On Wednesday the Association of Flight Attendants told the judge that it appears there is little likelihood that talks would be fruitful.

However, Northwest claimed it is willing to talk and that it “is working on its own new ideas to propose to the AFA negotiators.”

– Compiled from staff

and wire reports