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Stanly County leaders: Alcoa biased questions in poll about Yadkin lakes

ALBEMARLE ó The Stanly County Board of Commissioners says a recent survey commissioned by Alcoa distorts the debate over a series of Yadkin River lakes and dams, using skewed questions designed to favor Alcoa’s position.
Alcoa is trying to secure renewal of a 50-year federal license to operate the lakes and dams for hydroelectric power, and the multinational company commissioned a poll that it claimed shows “voters of North Carolina strongly believe that it is a very bad idea for the state government to take over the Alcoa hydroelectric dams and power plant.”
Stanly County commissioners questioned the content and timing of the release since it came out while members of the House and Senate conference committees were debating a provision in next year’s budget to create a Yadkin Study Commission to examine the issues involved in the relicensing over the next year while maintaining the status quo. The three-day survey was completed June 22. Alcoa was unsuccessful in trying to stop the formation of the study commission in the Senate budget hearings.
Stanly County commissioners oppose Alcoa’s operation of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project and have asked the state to intervene, saying the state’s water rights for a public resource should take precedence over a private firm, such as Alcoa, having an unlimited monopoly. Similar resolutions have been signed by Davidson, Randolph, Iredell, Anson, Cabarrus and Union county boards of commissioners as well as the Centralina Council of Governments.
In a written response, Stanly commissioners contend:
– The poll questions used wrong assumptions. The first question asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the state government using tax dollars to take over a privately owned and operated business?”
Stanly officials say they weren’t surprisinged that most respondents disapproved and and say the question has little to do with the Study Commission. The state budget only empowers the commission to study the issue and make recommendations to the General Assembly next year.
Stanly officials contend that no state tax dollars would be used if the state decided to a power authority. Instead, they say, the Yadkin Project annually generates profits that far exceed its cost ó at least $10 million to $40 million annually for Alcoa. Stanly officials say Alcoa has not been open about the revenue it gets from selling hydroelectric power.
Stanly officials note the survey mentions several different costs for the state, asking people whether they agree it should cost N.C. taxpayers $25 million in one question and “hundreds of millions” in another. The poll did not specify where those figures came from, Stanly officials say.
– The questioning was biased rather than neutral, violating a central tenet in conducting a survey.
For example, Stanly officials said residents were asked to choose one of two statements.
The first: “(Some/other) people say the state taking over Alcoa’s hydroelectric power project is a violation of their property rights. Alcoa purchased the land and built the dams, has operated and maintained them for 100 years and should have the right to continue operating the dams if it chooses to renew its license.”
The second: “(Some/ other) people say that the river belongs to everyone and that the federal law provides a way for ownership of the dams to be transferred to the state of North Carolina and it should be owned and operated by the state government for the public interest.”
“The first statement is more loaded in its wording, and even worse, it is incorrect,” Stanly officials said in their press release. “It does not specify who the “Some/other people” are who think Alcoa’s property rights are being violated, and, indeed, few people other than those connected to Alcoa have stated this position publicly.”
Stanly officials say the idea that Alcoa “automatically should retain rights to the lake and dams” contradicts the 1920 Federal Water Power Act, which remains in effect today and says no claims or titles “could pass to private hands, as ownership in ‘navigable waters’ such as the Yadkin River is vested in the United States.”
Stanly officials say Alcoa agreed, before getting its first 50-year license in 1958, that it was not a violation of its property rights for the federal law to order a takeover of its license and property at the end of the 50 years.
– The poll presents false arguments.
Stanly officials point to a question asking, “Do you support or oppose the state of North Carolina getting into the power business where the state would be responsible for owning, running and maintaining power plants and competing with other utilities?”
If the state took over the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, it would not compete with other utilities “because owning a hydroelectric project does not come with an electric distribution service territory for retail customers,” Stanly officials said..
Alcoa also is exempt from oversight by the N.C. Utilities Commission, Stanly officials said, and does not have to follow state guidelines as do Progress Energy, Duke Energy and other companies. The Alcoa poll did not disclose this in its questions.
– The survey omitted crucial information about Alcoa’s power should it receive a relicensing.
“Alcoa’s focus has been and most likely will continue to be on making money from its operations over generating a clean and abundant supply of water for drinking, recreation and other activities for Stanly and neighboring counties,” Stanly leaders said.
“In an era where gas runs $4 a gallon and probably will rise even more, Alcoa will receive a free source of power from the waters of the Yadkin in order to generate hydroelectricity it can sell to the highest bidder on the power grid.”
Stanly officialas also pointed out that the poll doesn’t diclose that Alcoa can sell its license to any third party to take over the dam operations, including foreign-based companies, and the license would remain in effect for the 50-year period.
“It is obvious that Alcoa had self-serving motives to create it and crafted the language carefully in its favor,” Stanly officials said. “The results misrepresent the actual overwhelming and very reasonable opposition to Alcoa’s involvement.”

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