Alcoa debate continues at Stanly County public hearing

  • Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 1:12 a.m.

ALBEMARLE — More than a dozen critics and advocates of a water quality certification sought by Alcoa Inc. spoke Tuesday night in the Stanly County Commissioners room as millions of dollars and a possible 50-year license stood at stake.

Alcoa officials hope to secure a 401 water-quality certification that would move the corporation closer to a renewed federal license, allowing them to continue operating dams along the Yadkin River. State officials from the Division of Water Quality listened to arguments on the certification Tuesday.

Opponents of the certification included the Yadkin Riverkeeper and a Duke University environmental law professor. Both said Alcoa hasn’t been a good steward of the land after officials acknowledged a now-defunct aluminum smelter plant is likely to have caused sediment contamination around the former site. Alcoa has maintained that PCB laden fish may have come from upstream.

Professor Ryke Longest said the certification should not be granted because the federal Clean Water Act’s goal of “swimmable” or “fishable” waters couldn’t apply to local bodies of water, like High Rock Lake, Lake Tillery and Falls Reservoir.

“The waters of the Yadkin River in this project are no longer fishable. The fish cannot be eaten. It is doing a tremendous disservice to the history of the Clean Water Act to interpret ‘fishable’ to mean catch-and-release, or catch-and-eat-a-few or catch-and-eat-only-the-small-ones,” Longest said.

He also cited an Environmental Protection Agency and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services joint meeting Monday night when officials released a study saying an industrial contaminant, PCB, was found in several fish in Yadkin River-fed lakes.

“The waters of the Yadkin River are no longer safe. As more studies have been done, we find more contamination and we find more extensive contamination and we find contamination in areas that are downstream of any industrial facilities.”

But several Alcoa supporters spoke out as well, asking officials to move the process along.

Members of the High Rock Lake Association, including former president Larry Jones and board member Len Strong advocated for issuance of the certificate.

HRLA members agreed to terms with Alcoa in 2007 in a Relicensing Settlement Agreement. Those members, Strong said, want to reap the rewards of the deal.

“We have all been waiting to be able to take advantage of the benefits of the terms and conditions of the RSA,” Strong said. “It’s been a long and tortuous process.”

Strong pleaded to state officials to look at Alcoa’s application and to apply the requirements accordingly.

“Our citizenry, our members, our neighbors have simply waited too long,” he said. “We would ask that if that application and that data meets your requirements that you act with all speed and dispatch to issue the certificate so that we can move on and get the benefits that have been negotiated over a long period of time.”

Alcoa officials had the water quality certificate in 2009 but it was appealed and later revoked after state officials said the corporation submitted false information in their application.

Some critics, like Albemarle resident Mike Snyder, urged officials to consider the 2009 application in their considerations.

Albemarle Mayor Elbert Whitley praised Stanly commissioners’ decision last week to agree to terms with Alcoa and support the corporation’s bid for a certification.

Whitley said the county has suffered in recent years because of the ongoing dam debate.

“The city of Albemarle, the county of Stanly has suffered greatly because we’ve come to a complete standstill,” Whitley said. “This issue has probably been the most divisive issue that has taken place in Albemarle and Stanly county in my lifetime.

“I’m tickled to death at this point to see it move forward and hopefully to a good resolution.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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