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Judge puts hold on Alcoa permit

RALEIGH (AP) ó An administrative judge on Wednesday temporarily stopped Alcoa Inc.’s route to the new federal license it needs to generate and sell electricity from dams along the Yadkin River for up to 50 years.
Administrative Law Judge Joe Webster ruled for Stanly County, site of a now-closed Alcoa aluminum smelting plant, saying the county demonstrated it was likely to prove the state Division of Water Quality did not consider all environmental data it could have before the agency issued a crucial certification earlier this month.
The agency “put on very narrow blinders on what they could and could not do,” said Yadkin River environmental advocate Dean Naujoks, who supported Stanly County’s effort to block the Alcoa relicensing.
Webster said he issued the temporary freeze to allow time for a full hearing on Stanly County’s claims. The judge’s ruling can be appealed to Superior Court.
“The decision to grant a stay represents another unnecessary delay in the relicensing of the Yadkin Project,” Alcoa Power Generating Inc. said in a statement.
The case is one of a series of bureaucratic dogfights that will end either with Alcoa receiving its operating license or the state getting a shot at controlling the dams and the river’s water. Alcoa needs the Division of Water Quality certificate, which attests that the company can operate the dams while protecting nearly 40 miles of the river and its reservoirs, as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing.
The division issued the certification earlier this month with conditions that included Alcoa posting a $240 million guarantee that the struggling aluminum producer will follow through with environmental improvements. The agency said the money was needed to upgrade its electric-generating turbines to improve dissolved oxygen levels in the discharged water. The company said it was already planning to do that.
Gov. Beverly Perdue has moved to block the Alcoa permit in both the state administrative law and federal relicensing processes. Alcoa built the dams to power an aluminum plant that once employed nearly 1,000 workers, but now collects more than $40 million a year by selling electricity generated by a public resource, Perdue’s administration said.

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