Alcoa takes request for records to court

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Alcoa Power Generating Inc. filed a complaint Friday in Superior Court demanding Stanly County officials turn over public documents the company requested almost a year ago.
Alcoa claims the county has failed to provide it with “the vast majority” of the requested records and the few copies it has provided have not been delivered “as promptly as possible,” as the N.C. Public Records Law requires.
“They have dribbled them out in small batches, occasionally over a period of several months,” the complaint says.
Named as defendants in the complaint are Stanly County Commissioners Tony Dennis, Gene McIntyre, Lindsey Dunevant, Jann Lowder and Sherrill Smith; Stanly County Manager Andy Lucas; Stanly County Attorney John Roberts; and former Stanly County Manager Jerry Myers.
Neither Lucas nor Roberts were available to comment Friday afternoon.
Alcoa and the Stanly County Board of Commissioners have opposed each other during Alcoa’s attempt to obtain a new 50-year federal license for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project รณ the dams and reservoirs that cover a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River.
In its complaint, Alcoa claims Stanly County has “engaged in a variety of unwarranted and improper tactics in an effort to avoid these obligations” of turning over requested public documents.
“At the county’s request,” the complaint adds, “APGI has attempted to narrow and prioritize its requests, but rather than facilitating and expediting the county’s compliance, these conciliatory and cooperative efforts have been met with obfuscation, foot-dragging, non-responsiveness and untenable interpretations of the law.”
Alcoa says it first requested Stanly County provide copies of certain public records related to the relicensing last April 5. Because the county failed to comply with that request by producing “any significant number or types of records,” Alcoa sent another letter to the county Aug. 8, 2008, asking again for the documents.
At the heart of the records dispute is what the county considers confidential information co-mingled with the public records.
The law allows the redacting of “privileged” or “confidential” information, but the county has failed to separate that information and provide the requested documents to Alcoa in a timely fashion, the lawsuit says.
“Rather, the county has presented APGI with the Hobson’s choice of either bearing the cost (which the county estimates at $331,170) of having the records reviewed on a timely basis by its outside law firm, or enduring the delay attendant to having the county’s staff attorney review the records ‘as he is able,'” the complaint says.
“The Public Records Law does not countenance either option, in letter or in spirit.”
Alcoa also claims information that was neither privileged nor confidential has been left out of documents it has received from the county
The company has asked the court for an immediate hearing, its review of any records that the county contends are not public and an order instructing the county to provide all public records for inspection and copying immediately.
Hugh Stevens and Amanda Martin, the Raleigh attorneys filing the case for Alcoa, are experts in the N.C. Public Records Law and are often employed by N.C. newspapers in their pursuit of information considered to be the property of the people.