By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The Bering Sea city of Nome, still recovering from a massive storm three weeks ago, now finds itself coping with the cancellation of the last scheduled fuel delivery for the winter, officials said.
A barge carrying 1.6 million gallons of gasoline, diesel fuel and heating fuel had been due in Nome before the onset of winter but turned around before reaching the city, with the blame put on bad weather including a recent storm, officials said.
Now enough sea ice has formed to preclude barge deliveries for the rest of the winter, and local officials worry that inventories could dwindle to dangerous levels in a few months.
There was no immediate energy crisis, Nome Mayor Denise Michels said on Wednesday. But the worry was that later in the winter, around March, fuel would become scarce and costly in the city of 3,600, she said.
"It already is high," Michels told Reuters, adding that gasoline sells for $5.39 to $5.43 a gallon around town. "We can't take a hit. It's hard enough as it is for folks here, trying to get their gasoline."
The canceled shipment affected one of the city's two local fuel suppliers, Bonanza Fuel, which is owned by the Sitnasuak Native Corp. Jason Evans, board chairman, said the company was looking for alternatives to ship fuel in to the remote community, which has no outside road access.
"We're exploring all options, but the only proven method that's left, I think, is to fly it in," Evans said. "It'll be significantly more expensive to fly than to barge it."
Missed fuel-barge deliveries in the past have imposed burdens on small villages along the Alaska river system, Evans noted. But such a cancellation has not happened in recent memory to a coastal port city of Nome's size, he said.
Nome officials, meanwhile, have been tallying damage from the early November storm, which weather experts said was the worst to hit northwestern Alaska since 1974.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston)