Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
The city of Salisbury continues its full-court press to have federal authorities order Alcoa Power Generating Inc. to do something about sediment and flooding dangers posed by the company’s High Rock Dam.
In a May filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the city attempted to rebut some previous Alcoa answers to the federal agency and reiterated that the company should be required to take the following steps to protect the city’s water supply and a sewer treatment plant:
– Removing in three stages the sediment delta building up by High Rock Lake.
Stage 1 would remove sand and sediment at the city’s raw water intakes, all west of the U.S. 29 bridge over the Yadkin River.
Stage 2 would remove sand and sediment at the mouth of Grants Creek.
Stage 3 would require Alcoa to provide annual maintenance through sand mining and dredging.
– Reducing the threat of flooding to the city’s “critical infrastructure.”
This would include moving the city’s water pump station at the end of Hannah Ferry Road, erecting a protective dike and access road for the Grants Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and acting to protect the Third and Seventh Street bridges in Spencer.
As part of any new license, the city said federal officials also should require Alcoa to:
– Provide instantaneous electronic sharing of hourly High Rock Lake level and discharge.
– Complete and publish annual surveys of the High Rock sediment delta, noting its size, location, thickness and depth.
– Close the Rowan County Pump Station Access Area, which is located at the city’s pump station and near the city raw water intakes. (Alcoa has recommended this as part of its Relicensing Settlement Agreement.)
– Correct documents. Salisbury says the federal agency should require Alcoa to file corrected documents that accurately represent Salisbury’s property boundaries and interests.
– Communicate accurately. Salisbury officials suggest adding the following paragraph in Alcoa’s license:
“The licensee shall communicate only accurate information to third parties, including local governments, regarding commission policies, commission requirements, license terms and conditions and project operations and effects.”
The city filed its “Recommendations and Comments” with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in connection with Alcoa’s application for a new 50-year license for the Yadkin Project.
The hydroelectric project includes four dams along a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River: High Rock, Tuckertown, Narrows (Badin Lake) and Falls.
Alcoa Power Generating Inc. hopes to have its new license approved in April 2008.
Federal officials made a site visit to Salisbury in January. In February, Salisbury submitted “Scoping Comments” and results from experts it hired to study the sedimentation and flooding questions.
Alcoa filed an answer to Salisbury’s study results.
Meanwhile, various stakeholders including state and federal agencies, local governments, environmental interest groups, homeowners and others have signed the Relicensing Settlement Agreement that Alcoa has submitted to federal officials as a collective recommendation on the Yadkin Project’s future operation.
This week, Salisbury filed a two-page response to the settlement agreement, saying it “leaves unresolved major relicensing issues,” most of which were listed again in the city’s filing in May.
The May comments from Salisbury try to counter Alcoa’s claims that the city has not filed its objections in a timely manner and that its studies were inappropriate and technically at fault.
Salisbury also countered Alcoa assertions that the city relinquished its property rights in a 1927 agreement and again in a 1969 easement.
City officials have estimated that its challenge to Alcoa in the relicensing process will cost $250,000 to $300,000 in contracts with legal counsel and scientific experts. But they add the city could face up to $22 million in infrastructure costs if Alcoa is not ordered to to do something about the sediment and flooding issues.
Alcoa argues the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lacks authority to require mitigation measures.
Alcoa said the Salisbury studies are “conceptually defective” and depend on unsubstantiated assumptions, questionable data, unverifiable computation methods and shaky input values.
Sediment and flooding on the Yadkin River occurred before Alcoa’s dams existed and would have occurred had the dams not been built, the company argues.
Alcoa officials say they have consistently relied on studies done by a qualified independent consultant and the federal agency itself.
Salisbury’s environmental counsel, Randy Tinsley, updated Salisbury City Council on the relicensing process this week. The city expects to file more comments on a state water quality application in July and on a federal draft environmental statement in November, Tinsley said.
Salisbury City Manager David Treme said the city remains adamant that steps to correct the problems and dangers must happen. Alcoa also has to deal “honestly and openly with us in the future,” Treme said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or