Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hears comments from High Rock Lake dwellers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

LEXINGTON — Jean Creed said Tuesday night that she likes living on High Rock Lake — when it doesn’t look more like High Rock Pond from her back door.

At 10 feet below full, Creed told representatives of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, she has only 1 foot of water at the end of her pier in the cove she calls home.

At that level, she said, her $24,000 pontoon boat is essentially grounded and her home isn’t really a lakefront property, although that doesn’t matter when she pays higher taxes.

“I am taxed as waterfront property and would like to be waterfront year-round,” she said.

That 10-foot drawdown is what Alcoa Power Generating Inc. is proposing as the maximum for High Rock Lake during winter months in its application for a new license to operate a series of reservoirs and power-generating dams along the Yadkin River.

And that number came up over and over at the first public hearing on the license held by the federal agency considering the license. Another hearing will be held tonight in Albemarle.

The meetings are aimed at gathering public comment and information as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission begins developing an environmental impact statement for the project, which starts at High Rock Lake and extends south along the Yadkin to include the Tuckertown, Narrows and Falls dams and lakes.

The government will consider the impact of the project on water quality, wetlands, ecology, fish and wildlife habitats and recreational uses, among other things.

Of the nearly 20 people who spoke at the two-hour meeting Tuesday, some commended Alcoa for proposals to improve recreation on the lake, and some counted it a victory that the company has proposed extending the summer recreation season and setting a drawdown limit of 4 feet during those months.

Many speakers said that’s still too much water leaving the lake during the high-use season and most opposed Alcoa’s proposal to draw down the lake as much as 10 feet between Nov. 1 and March 31.

Dean Vick, speaking for Concerned Property Owners of High Rock Lake, said that provision was the deal breaker that kept his group from signing Alcoa’s Agreement in Principle last summer after it had worked in the process since the beginning.

“Fluctuations of lake levels at High Rock Lake over the years has caused great damage to our lake,” Vick said. “The 10-foot maximum drawdown being proposed will continue this fluctuation.”

Vick and other speakers asked for a 6-foot maximum drawdown in the winter.

And although they made lake levels their central argument, Vick said his organization and others like it aren’t “single issue” groups. Higher, more stable lake levels, he said, would better allow shoreline foliage to grow, preventing erosion and improving water quality, which would allow more aquatic plant life to grow that would in turn provide more oxygen and a better habitat for marine life.

Meanwhile, Alcoa’s proposal to install equipment that would increase oxygen levels below the High Rock and Narrows dams, Vick argued, would do nothing to improve water quality in High Rock Lake.

Alcoa has proposed a number of measures throughout the project that it says would improve water quantity and quality, better protect fish and wildlife habitats and prevent a repeat of 2002 conditions, when a devastating drought left most of High Rock Lake dry.

“I’m very proud to say that the progress we’ve made is significant and we do believe it represents a true balance of the issues,” Alcoa spokesman Gene Ellis said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will continue taking public comment and accepting information as it works toward issuing a draft environmental impact statement later this year, said Lee Emery, project coordinator for the government agency.

“We’re still early in the licensing process,” he said. And of the comments received Tuesday, he added, “We’ll consider some of these factors” in identifying issues to be studied.

A second public meeting will be held at 7 tonight at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center, 26032-b Newt Road, Albemarle. A meeting for agencies involved in the process will be held at 1 p.m. today at the same site.

Those who can’t attend the meeting may submit written comments to Magalie R. Salas, secretary for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, at 888 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20426. Comments may also be filed electronically at www.ferc.gov under the e-filing link.

Include the project docket number, P-2197-073, with the comments.

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.