Alcoa, Stanly County reach agreement

  • Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 12:50 a.m.

Editor’s note: This story has been altered to correct a quote by Commission Chairman Gene McIntyre.

ALBEMARLE — Stanly County officials gave the green light to Alcoa’s efforts to obtain a water-quality certificate — one of the last hurdles in the corporation’s pursuit of a renewed federal license — in a 3-2 vote that ended a longtime conflict between the two sides Monday night.

Commission Chairman Gene McIntyre, Vice Chair Josh Morton and Commissioner Peter Ascuitto voted in favor of the contested agreement. The three votes broke a longtime stalemate over whether Alcoa should be allowed another federal license that would permit the corporation to operate dams that feed four lakes, including High Rock, for up to 50 more years.

“To agree to this agreement in principle,” McIntyre said of the settlement. “Not the term that everybody likes to use, but that’s basically what it is.”

Opponents have criticized the company’s quest for relicensing, citing Alcoa’s original purpose was to power a now-defunct aluminum smelting plant that officially closed in 2010 despite years of minimal activity.

Since the plant closed, Alcoa has sold electricity produced by the dams and kept the profits.

The agreement, according to the settlement, includes the following:

• Alcoa will support Stanly County’s request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for future water withdrawals of up to 30 million gallons of water per day. In addition, Alcoa will provide Stanly County with 20 acres of land, plus right of way, for a potential water treatment plant.

• Stanly County will support Alcoa’s application for a water-quality certificate from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a 50-year FERC license for the Yadkin Project.

• Alcoa and Stanly County will work together to recruit new jobs and promote economic development to Stanly County and the Badin Business Park.

• Alcoa will provide $3 million to Stanly County, including $1 million to be used solely for economic development purposes. Alcoa will pay Stanly County an additional $100,000 for each year that the term of the FERC license exceeds 40 years.

• Alcoa and Stanly County will stay all current legal issues. All pending lawsuits and appeals will be dismissed once Alcoa receives a final 401 water-equality certificate from the North Carolina Division of Water Quality.

But commissioners Lindsey Dunevant and Tony Dennis remained vigilant in their opposition to the decision Monday night.

Dunevant said he felt the water belonged solely to the people of Stanly County.

“Few times in our lifetime do we arrive at a situation that becomes a defining moment — an opportunity to declare what we stand for and who we are,” Dunevant read from a statement. “These circumstances often provide a decision between a good choice and the best choice. For some time now we knew the Stanly County commissioners would come to face such a moment. It has arrived.”

Dunevant said he continues to oppose the matter, but noted the dispute aided Stanly County residents.

“In fact, it is an affirmation of our decision to take a stand,” he said. “As a result of our efforts, agencies and state government have done their job to help protect our environment and improve our water quality for decades to come.”

Chairman McIntyre, along with Alcoa relicensing manager Ray Barham, met with reporters after the vote.

Both said nothing affected the timing of the vote, other than the two sides wanting to end the dispute.

“I think we all just decided it’s time to make this work,” McIntyre said.

“I think Gene brought some good leadership to the commission that helped us bridge some gaps and helped us understand some issues that were problems in the prior discussions and we were able to work through those and come up with a constructive agreement,” Barham added.

When asked if a recent FERC filing by New Energy Capital, a New Hampshire equity firm that proposed to help finance an alternative to Alcoa had sped up talks, both denied any such effect.

“It came after we had tentatively agreed in principle at our earlier meetings,” McIntyre said. “I say tentatively we came to a consensus two weeks ago that this was the route we were going to go.”

Barham also said the filing would have had minimal impact.

“The FERC public application date has been 5 years closed, so although anyone can file a motion, like New Capital, the weight of it given by FERC would be very limited.”

Only one resident spoke during the public comment session of the meeting, which was more than half full.

Mike Snyder, of Albemarle, warned commissioners before they voted that their decision could be costly.

“That water is our most important, if not our only, asset. I think it’s extremely important that you consider and reconsider and make sure that the decision that you’re going to make tonight is one that’s going to benefit a community at large,” Snyder said. “I think that those of you that will choose to sign off on the agreement that I would suggest that history may not be kind for that type of action.”

Commissioner Ascuitto followed shortly thereafter by saying he wanted to move past the ongoing Alcoa debate and work to increase economic development in the area.

“Hopefully, we get resolution tonight,” Ascuitto said just before commissioners went into closed session. “I know it’s been six or seven years coming and I know it’s a divisive issue, so hopefully we can just — whatever we decide tonight — we can just move forward as a county and we can just try to recruit more business to bring jobs to Stanly County.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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