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Scott Mooneyham: Perdue shows foresight on Yadkin issue

RALEIGH ó Gov. Beverly Perdue has gotten knocked around a lot lately in the press, in the legislature and in the public.
That will happen when you support a big tax hike, and then get squeamish when you talk about it publicly. It’s hard to argue that Perdue came out looking good as she skirmished with legislators over taxes and a $19 billion state budget.
But on another policy issue, Perdue has shown some foresight a bit lacking among her legislative critics.
A couple of months ago, Perdue decided to oppose the federal re-licensing of four dams on the Yadkin River owned by a subsidiary of aluminum-maker Alcoa. The governor was apparently convinced by Stanly County officials that Alcoa didn’t deserve to keep the license, and with it control of the water and its flow, after the company shut down aluminum smelting operations and eliminated 1,000 jobs.
Over in the General Assembly, two Republican senators from the area began pushing the idea of creating a state-backed trust to take control of the dams should Alcoa lose its bid for another 50-year federal license. Their bill cleared the Senate, finally passed two House committees, but then was resoundingly defeated on the House floor.
The issues raised by the re-licensing and the bid to stop it are complicated. The rights of the parties involved are critical and conflicted.
The legislators who stood up on the House floor to oppose the bill spoke of property rights, of how the state shouldn’t be trying to push aside Alcoa and take over its operations. The state’s action would be precedent-setting, discouraging business.
The bill’s supporters had a different take: The water belongs to the people, not Alcoa; the people set aside their rights of control temporarily ó through the federal license ó in exchange for the benefit of jobs; without those jobs, the water rights shouldn’t continue to be granted.
“Unless you live in this basin, you don’t know what it’s like to have every drop of water that you rely on to be controlled by a private company,” said Rep. Pryor Gibson, an Anson County Democrat.
Whispers and shouts accompanied the debate. After one House committee meeting, an Alcoa supporter and a lobbyist representing Stanly County began loudly arguing, the word “lies” batted about. Some who watched the maneuvering whispered about underhanded moves.
Much of the talk doesn’t really matter. Or at least, in 20 or 30 years, it won’t.
What will matter then is whether state government, and the local governments in the Yadkin River Valley, are able to manage the available water so that communities can grow and thrive.
If they don’t have that control, and if those communities suffer as a consequence, the children and young adults living in those communities today, when they’re 30 and 40 years old, will look back on this legislature’s decision with disdain.
They’ll know that the then-governor showed some foresight.
They’ll know that a bunch of crotchety legislators who made a fuss about property rights didn’t.
– – –
Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.

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