FAIRBANKS -- State officials have reversed their stand and agreed to hold a public hearing on the discharge by a utility of hot water into the Chena River, which runs through downtown Fairbanks.
''We felt that perhaps it's best to err on the side of having an opportunity for comment than not,'' said Tom Chapple, director of the state Division of Air and Water Quality.
The hearing will be in March.
State officials initially said they would not hold a hearing because there is no evidence Aurora Energy's hot water discharge causes environmental harm.
Opponents of the discharge oppose it for quality-of-life reasons: It prevents ice from forming and impedes winter recreational use of the river.
Aurora Energy takes cold water from the Chena and uses it to cool power plant's boilers. Heated water is pumped back into the river.
An engineer with Aurora Energy has said the company cannot find a cost-effective alternative to discharging the hot water.
Hot water from the plant has been pumped into the Chena for years. Aurora Energy, which bought the plant from the city of Fairbanks in 1998, is seeking a permit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the discharge. It's unclear whether the EPA will be involved in the public hearing.
If the EPA grants the permit to Aurora Energy, the state would be asked to certify it.
''It's very difficult for us to look at recreational values or other uses,'' Chapple said. ''We can hear what the comments are and decide what's appropriate for us to do.''
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