Uwharrie panel discusses potential, resources at first meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 7, 2011

By Karissa Minn
There are only 12 people on the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission, but more than 60 people crowded in and around the Stanly County Airport conference room Thursday for its first meeting.
“We have, in this green middle area of North Carolina, tremendous potential, great heritage and amazing natural resources,” said member J. Keith Crisco, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce. “We need a focus to bring this region up to its potential, and I hope this commission can be a part of it.”
The Uwharrie Region refers to the area surrounding the lakes created by damming the Yadkin River. It stretches across Rowan, Stanly, Davidson, Montgomery, Anson and Richmond counties.
Those waiting Thursday for a mention of Alcoa Power Generating Inc. or possible state ownership of its Yadkin Hydroelectric Project found they will have to wait a little longer.
Instead, the commission spent most of its time at the meeting getting itself organized.
After the members were sworn in, Tony Dennis, chairman of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners, was elected to be chairman of the commission.
Max Walser, former chairman of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners, was elected vice chairman.
Jason Walser, executive director of the Central Piedmont LandTrust, was elected secretary and treasurer. He is the only member from Salisbury.
Member Jim Nance, former board member of the N.C. Department of Transportation, then nominated Faison Hicks as executive director. Hicks is not a member of the commission and works as a special deputy attorney general with the N.C. Department of Justice. He has opposed Alcoa’s relicensing efforts.
Before voting, Jason Walser asked what the executive director would do.
“I think Faison’s one of the most intelligent men I’ve met … so this isn’t personal,” he said. “But I need to have some goals and some idea of what we’re talking about before knowing what skill set to look for.”
Crisco said the executive director would help run the commission’s activities full-time. “We’re going to need someone … working on funding and working on all the different directives that take place,” he said. “I think Faison has a good knowledge of this whole issue and a good knowledge of the region.”
Albemarle City Councilwoman Martha Sue Hall, another member, said she didn’t see where the commission had the authority to name an executive director.
Member Dee Freeman, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, read from the bill that established the commission.
“It says, ‘Additional staff may be hired or contracted by the commission through funds raised by or provided to it,’ ” Freeman said. “I suggest we ask Faison to collaborate with us unpaid at this point.”
Commission members agreed with Freeman. They tentatively set the next meeting for 5 p.m. Feb. 24 at a location in the Uwharrie Region to be determined.
After Thursday’s meeting, Dennis said the commission will focus on taking care of the region’s natural resources.
When asked about pursuing state ownership of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, Dennis said the commission is still finding its footing. He said he personally thinks the public should own it.
“Our natural resources, such as the river, belong to the people,” Dennis said. “We, as the people, need to take control of them.”
Jason Walser said after the meeting that Alcoa will be an important part of what the commission addresses, but he cares less about who owns the dams than he does about how the environment and economy are affected.
“I think the average citizen out there … expects a clean environment, natural resource protection and jobs,” he said. “I hope we do the best we can to meet that expectation for the public. There was obvious public interest tonight, and people are looking to us to have credibility and accountability.”
Other members of the commission include:
• Becky Wallace, retired U.S. Marshal
• Roger Dick, chairman of Uwharrie Capital
• Zoe Hanes, board president of Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc.
• Dr. David Jones, director of North Carolina Zoo (not in attendance Thursday)
• Melton “Bill” Mullinix (not in attendance Thursday)
Members appointed by the governor are Jones, Wallace, Mullinix, Dick, Crisco and Freeman.
Appointed by the Centralina Council of Governments are Nance and Hall. Appointed by the Piedmont Council of Governments are Jason Walser and Hanes.
Dennis was appointed by the Senate President Pro Tempore, and Max Walser was appointed by the Speaker of the House.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.