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Mooneyham: Alcoa tries different approach

RALEIGH ó Recent actions by aluminum-maker Alcoa can only be interpreted a couple of ways.
Perhaps executives at the company have done some soul-searching regarding their fight over control of four dams along the Yadkin River.
Or, maybe they are finally scared.
For the last few years, Alcoa has been working toward getting the federal government to grant another 50 years license to operate the dams, an endeavor thatís become particularly tricky because the company no longer operates an aluminum smelting plant on the river banks and no longer employs workers in North Carolina.
The task became even trickier when Gov. Beverly Perdue and some key state legislators in the region weighed in against the re-licensing.
Then, in November, a state agency revoked a key permit for the dams, ruling that the company wasnít forthcoming about potential water quality problems downstream of the dams.
Not long after that ruling, an Alcoa vice president decided to come to North Carolina to play nice with some of the companyís critics.
Kevin Anton met with state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican and sponsor of legislation to begin the process of state control of the dams, and Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, who for years has complained of environmental contamination by the company.
Hartsell described the conversations as ětrying to develop consensus.î
Anton later told The Winston-Salem Journal that the company would spend $10 million to gussy up its old Badin Works plant, located in the picturesque town of Badin in the Uwharrie Mountains, in hopes of finding a new tenant.
The discussions lead to an obvious question: What exactly does consensus look like?
Some entity or another is going to control the operation of the dams, and the revenue that comes from the electricity generation. Without producing any jobs itself, or offering up some of that revenue stream, Alcoa isnít likely to change any minds that have long since been made up.
When Alcoa was a major jobs producer in North Carolina, state and local officials were more than happy to ignore that dams donít produce electricity without the water, and the water belongs to the people of the state.
A reasonable use of that water then, and a reasonable use of it now, are two different things.
If Alcoaís opponents do smell fear, theyíre also likely to double their efforts, believing a complete victory ó a landmark decision by federal regulators not to re-license the dams ó may be near.
They have some reason to be optimistic. The loss of the state certification potentially blocks the federal re-licensing.
Of course, people sometimes overplay their hands in such situations.
Aloca is appealing the decision by the state to withdraw certification. It says improvements to the dams will enable them to meet water quality standards, despite internal company emails that suggest they might not.
Whatever happens, itís probably far too late for a little schmoozing to create a sudden outbreak of peace where everyone decides they are on the same side.

Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association.

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