Critics see themselves fighting ‘evil’ company
By Karissa Minn
As Alcoa fights to control the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, its challenges are not only in the legal system but also the court of public opinion.
Alcoa says it has the right to own the dams and benefits the community with the money it makes. Many of its opponents say they are taking a stand for the people against an irresponsible corporation.
Some go a bit further.
ěWe need to develop a clear message,î wrote Zoe Hanes, chairwoman of Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc., in an e-mail. ěThat message is ëAlcoa is Evil.íî
The e-mail was sent in August 2010 to banker Roger Dick and forwarded to several people, including Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco and N.C. Sens. Fletcher Hartsell and Stan Bingham.
Hanes said in a January interview that in the e-mail, she was summarizing discussion points from a meeting of ěpeople who are interested in the Yadkin River as a resource.î
The ěAlcoa is evilî phrase came up, she said, as a tongue-in-cheek way to describe their concerns about the company.
ěThere are good corporate citizens and bad corporate citizens,î Hanes said. ěAlcoa is a bad corporate citizen.î
The e-mail detailed a strategy for the group to fight the company, including building public pressure and using the media to get out its message.
It also suggests getting more help from environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who spoke out against the company in June 2010 at an event sponsored by Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc.
When asked about the e-mail, Kevin Anton, Alcoaís new Chief Sustainability Officer said the company wants to ěstay above the fray.î
In the past several months, Alcoa has begun efforts to change the tone of public discussion on relicensing. The tone of its own public statements has become less defensive and more conciliatory.
Anton recently held talks throughout North Carolina with the companyís supporters and its detractors.
ěWeíre listening, and people are talking,î Anton said. ěThereís less rhetoric and more dialog.î
He said he understands that actions speak louder than words, and Alcoa is working to redevelop the Badin Works site and bring jobs back to the community.
Those who have lost faith in the company say theyíll believe it when they see it.
When Stanly County Commissioner Tony Dennis was told of Alcoaís redevelopment plans, he said heís heard it all before, and ěI believe that as much as I can fly.î
Dennis says Alcoa is a ěwolf in sheepskinî and calls its new public relations approach ěsmoke and mirrors.î
Naujoks also is unimpressed with Alcoaís cooperative stance, calling it ělittle more than a PR move to get a 50-year license.î
Dennis, Hanes and Naujoks all say Alcoa has lied about its environmental record and current practices.
But the company says it is working transparently on those issues with state and federal agencies. It also says it has been a ěstrong supporter of the local communityî for a long time.
The company helps provide job training in Stanly County, and it partners with state agencies and local law enforcement to promote water safety.
Alcoa has donated one million artifacts found at the Hardaway Site in Stanly County to researchers at UNC Chapel Hill. Its foundation also provided a $220,000 grant for the site.
The Alcoa Foundation has provided sheriff departments in Stanly, Rowan, Davidson and Montgomery counties with new patrol boats.
The foundation also awarded a $250,000 grant in December 2007 to support economic development efforts in Badin.
Badin Mayor Jim Harrison said Alcoa has been a good corporate neighbor.
He said he understands environmental concerns, but heís satisfied that Alcoa is working closely with state and federal agencies to address them. Those who loudly oppose the company are motivated by money, Harrison said.
Itís not only Alcoaís opponents who frame the relicensing debate as a battle between good and evil.
ěYou know the people who are against the relicensing?î Harrison joked. ěI like to call them the ëdark side.íî
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.