Senator, Alcoa official discuss relicensing issue
LEXINGTON - A state senator and an Alcoa representative traded perspectives on Wednesday night on the company's right and warrant to the Yadkin River Project.
N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, and Alcoa relicensing manager Ray Barham both addressed the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission at Davidson County Community College, offering opposing accounts of the key issues and possible solutions to the relicensing dispute.
Alcoa is seeking a new 50-year license to manage the project, which spans from High Rock Lake down to Falls Dam near Albemarle, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That application is on hold, pending Alcoa receiving the water quality certificate from the state. It initially received the certificate in May 2009, but it was later revoked in December 2010, after the state Division of Water Quality, part of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the company submitted inaccurate data.
Alcoa appealed the revocation in 2011, but the company asked the court on Aug. 28 to dismiss its case "without prejudice." An administrative law judge granted Alcoa's motion to dismiss on Sept. 27, and the company has already filed a new application.
"We decided, rather than continuing on a legal battle, it would be easier and quicker," Barham said. "The 401 requirements have hard established time lines. We saw it as a quicker way to get things moving without continuing to be in court. Court is not inexpensive."
Barham said the new application also gives DENR a chance to review new technology, and subsequent dissolved oxygen improvements, the company has implemented.
While Alcoa continues to be about 42 percent compliant with new water quality standards at High Rock Dam and 51 percent compliant with new standards at Tuckertown Dam, Barham said new technology implemented at its other dams, Narrows Dam and Falls Dam, has made those waters close to 100 percent in compliance, according to figures presented on Wednesday. Barham said High Rock Dam and Tuckertown Dam can also benefit from new technology; however, the company cannot upfit those areas without the 401 certificate and subsequent FERC permit.
"If we had gotten the license, High Rock would have been upgraded by now and you would have seen High Rock improvements," Barham said. "If High Rock comes up to standard, you can possibly bring Tuckertown into compliance without doing anything. It will have a ripple through effect."
Prior to the judge's decision last week, the Attorney General of North Carolina requested that the state's courts deny Alcoa's request for a motion to dismiss its appeal. The state claimed that Alcoa's motion to dismiss "without prejudice" clouded the whole issue, creating "confusion and ambiguity."
On Wednesday, Hartsell said at its heart, the relicensing issue is about public benefit, something he said Alcoa has not provided in the past 10 years. He said that 50 years ago, the state intervened on behalf of Alcoa in support of the company's first license, expressing a provision related to the jobs the company would create.
"At the end of that 50-year term, there was no public benefit for roughly the last 10 years associated with it," Hartsell said. "That is an issue that is at the core of this whole proposition."
Hartsell also brought up a larger perspective, that navigable waterways belong to the citizen, not private entities.
"Originally, rivers were the instruments of commerce in this state," Hartsell said. "That being the case, the state owned the beds of the rivers and navigable areas of the rivers. When the state of North Carolina declared its independence, it became a state.
"The state owns the beds of the rivers and the waters entrusted to the public as a whole," Hartsell continued. "What is the public benefit related to a private operation that benefits from the waters for private gain?"
Nash Dunn can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or at email@example.com.