Yadkin Riverkeeper says Alcoa must clean up contamination
By Mark Wineka
Dean Naujoks, the new Yadkin Riverkeeper, says his organization will only support Alcoa Power Generating Inc.’s federal license application for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project if the corporation agrees to clean up existing contamination at Badin Lake.
Naujoks issued a press release Monday. He said he made his conclusions after reviewing reports about the history of pollution at Badin Lake (the Narrows), one of the chain of reservoirs created by the hydroelectric project on the Yadkin River.
“I believe that Alcoa is responsible for much of the contamination at Badin Lake and therefore must be required to clean it up if the corporation wants a license for exclusive use of generating hydroelectric power on the Yadkin River,” Naujoks said in the release.
Gene Ellis, licensing and property manager for Alcoa Power Generating Inc., said his company has provided water samples to the N.C. Division of Water that show there is no contamination coming through the Narrows Dam as a result of Alcoa’s operation.
Alcoa first received a 50-year federal license for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project in 1958. The aluminum-making company closed its smelter in 2002, but Alcoa is pursuing another 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) so it can continue producing hydropower for sale.
Environmental and water quality matters have been raised during the licensing process.
The original deadline for approval of the new license was last April, but the state of North Carolina must approve a Section 401 water quality certificate before the new FERC license will be issued.
In addition, the N.C. General Assembly has asked the Environmental Review Commission (ERC) to study how a new long-term license for the Yadkin Project might affect the state of North Carolina.
Alcoa and Stanly County recently filed briefs with the ERC outlining their respective positions with regard to issues the ERC has been asked to study. Those briefs were formally submitted during the ERC meeting Nov. 25, 2008.
The ERC must submit a written study report regarding the Yadkin Project relicensing to the N.C. General Assembly by Feb. 1.
“I am concerned that available data clearly indicate that Badin Lake and the area downstream have significant human, health and ecological problems that are and will continue to be affected by Alcoa’s dam operations,” Naujoks said.
But Ellis countered, “I’m not understanding where that comment is coming from.”
Naujoks said it also was disturbing that Alcoa had “discharged pollutants into the air and county lands and waterways during the operation of the Badin Works Plant.”
He said the known contaminants include cyanide, fluoride, PCBs, solvents, metals, hydrocarbons, benzene, naphthalene and methane.
Ellis said Alcoa has a long history of working on waste sites associated with the smelter and has concluded there is no threat to human health or the environment. The state concurs with that opinion, he said.
The waste issues also are governed by separate regulatory processes and agencies, and FERC has said they will not be part of the relicensing, Ellis added.
As part of the process, Alcoa reached a Relicensing Settlement Agreement with 23 major stakeholders in 2007. It serves as a collective recommendation to FERC on how the hydroelectric project should be operated in the future.
Naujoks noted that it calls for Alcoa to invest $240 million to install aeration technology to improve water quality at its dams. But he said the agreement has no provisions “to address cleaning up contamination left over from decades of Alcoa’s smelter operations.”
He agreed that the FERC license will not require Alcoa to handle the issue.
Because only Alcoa seems to know exactly where the smelter’s industrial hazardous waste is buried, Naujoks said, there is no indication to what extent the contamination has affected Badin Lake and the people who have used this lake for years.
“Alcoa must accept full responsibility to clean up their contamination of public waters,” he added. “The state of North Carolina must not allow Alcoa to pass their toxic legacy on to the public.
“Until Alcoa addresses and resolves this contamination issue in a timely manner, my organization cannot in good faith support Alcoa’s relicensing effort because of the concerns we have about its effects on water quality and the potential human health impacts.”
The N.C. Division of Water Quality will hold a public hearing Jan. 15 on Alcoa’s application for a Section 401 water quality certificate. The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. in the meeting room of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners, 1000 North St., Albemarle.
Ellis said Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc. actually shares many similar goals to the company in terms of water quality and a commitment to it, “and the relicensing agreement bears that out.” He said he would welcome the opportunity to talk in person with Naujoks.
Several months ago, they shared e-mails and talked on the telephone, but they have not been able to meet face to face, Ellis said.
As the Yadkin Riverkeeper, Naujoks manages and implements a river advocacy program for the Yadkin-Pee Dee River watershed in North Carolina. Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc. is a licensed member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which connects and supports local Waterkeeper programs to provide a voice and champion clean water for waterways and their communities worldwide.