Warm Weather to Bring Extra Gas Charge

Washington Gas will charge Maryland customers a new surcharge during unexpected warm weather to help reduce higher winter bills and ensure that the utility can cover its costs when demand is low because of higher temperatures.

The policy, approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission, is known as a revenue normalization adjustment. Used by 37 utilities in 17 states nationwide, it is designed to reduce volatility in the natural gas market.

Natural gas utilities set rates using estimates of weather based on histories of weather data. However, that can leave utilities and customers vulnerable to weather fluctuations that don't fit the historical pattern.

Washington Gas will add the surcharge, which will not exceed $3.50 for most residential customers, during periods in which the weather is warmer than expected, the company said yesterday. When the weather is colder than the utility predicts, which would lead to a spike in natural gas use, customers' bills would be reduced. The new policy will be implemented Oct. 1.

The policy comes as part of a settlement Washington Gas made over a dispute with groups that include the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, the Department of Defense and the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.

Troubled Teens Might Go Out of State

Dozens of dangerous and deeply troubled juvenile offenders might be shipped out of state when the Ehrlich administration makes good on its pledge to close the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School by Nov. 30.

No other school in Maryland can handle some of the youths Hickey has served, according to state Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. He said some will have to be sent to residential treatment programs in Pennsylvania and Virginia that the agency has used in the past. Others, however, might be sent to more distant states, he said.

"There are a number of places we're looking at," Montague said. "There could be places in Indiana, and there's one we're looking at in Iowa."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced June 30 that the 144-bed secure program at Hickey, which serves the state's toughest juvenile offenders, will be shut down. A 26-bed program for sex offenders and a 72-bed short-term jail are to close later.

Hickey, near Carney in Baltimore County, has long been criticized as unsafe and ineffective. The U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report last year that concluded that conditions at the facility violated the constitutional rights of its residents.

Some advocates say that sending troubled youngsters out of state is a bad idea. "In the private sector and out of state, there is no oversight," said Del. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County). "The problems of Hickey are multiplied . . . because nobody's keeping an eye on it."


Building Site Fires Force 15th St. Closing

Soil contaminated by gasoline set off flash fires at a construction site in Northwest Washington yesterday, forcing authorities to shut down a busy portion of 15th Street for several hours.

Construction crews were excavating the site about 8 a.m. when the small fires began to erupt just above the ground. Fire officials said high temperatures and construction work ignited fuel vapors wafting from the soil.

Construction was halted, and crews covered the soil with fresh dirt. Fire officials planned to reexamine the site today to determine how to continue the excavation. Southbound lanes were shut on 15th street between L and M streets NW until about 4 p.m., officials said. Crews opened northbound lanes about 12:30 p.m.

Gasoline probably seeped into the ground from fuel tanks, which were removed from the area in the early 1990s. The Washington Post Co. operated a parking garage at the site and sold the property in 2003 to Monument Realty. The developer is constructing an office building that is scheduled to open in 2007.

Suspicious Package Was Training Tool

A suspicious package that forced the evacuation of the Mayflower hotel Sunday afternoon was a training tool left behind by a contractor working for the Secret Service, officials said.

Hotel security called police when they found the device on the 10th floor, officials said. Police bomb squad crews responded, and X-rays revealed what appeared to be a bomb. The crews "disrupted" the device with a water cannon. It contained no explosives. At the scene, fire and police officials said the device appeared to be "a hoax."

Officials said yesterday that the device was a training tool that simulates a real bomb. It had been left inadvertently at the hotel by the contractor. The incident forced the evacuation of about 350 people from the hotel in the 1100 block of Connecticut Avenue NW.


VRE Says Service to Improve Today

Virginia Railway Express, whose customers endured substantial delays yesterday because of work being done on the tracks, can expect better service today, officials said yesterday.

VRE expects to run the entire Fredericksburg schedule this morning, but officials warned that half-hour delays would be possible. For tonight, the railroad will make some schedule changes, which should be posted on the VRE Web site.

On the Manassas Line, passengers can expect normal service today, but possibly with delays of 10 minutes.

Liberty U Eases Student Dress Code

Students at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University will be allowed to go to class wearing flip-flops and "neat jeans" this fall, but shorts will remain a forbidden fashion.

The change is part of a gradual easing of a campus dress code that as recently as five years ago required men to wear ties and women to wear long skirts or dresses.

The new dress edict, announced to students in a recent e-mail, lists a range of attire options deemed appropriate for the classroom and other academic settings. For men, they include polo shirts, sweat shirts and "neat jeans," meaning no holes or patches. Women can wear sweaters, sweat shirts and cropped or Capri pants.

"Unless you are on it [in a boat] or wading in it, you can't quite imagine how pretty and aesthetic it is. You watch the light change, and you see a great blue heron doing what you're doing a hundred yards up. Then the peepers [frogs] come, and you hear all this amazing stuff, right in the midst of a really urban area."

-- Smith Coleman, an Orange County teacher who has fly-fished on the Rappahannock River since the 1980s. -- B1

Compiled from reports by staff writer Del Quentin Wilber and the Associated Press.