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Keep Yadkin River profits flowing in our state

By Nancy Gottovi
For the Salisbury Post
The Yadkin River is one of our stateís greatest wealth generators. For instance, a 38-mile stretch of the river provides 940 million kilowatt hours of valuable hydro-electricity. Unfortunately, for the past decade, the majority of the wealth generated by the river has flowed out of our stateís economy rather than into it.
Now our state has a once in a lifetime opportunity to use this valuable natural resource to create wealth and jobs in North Carolina ó by reclaiming the federal license to the river that Washington granted Alcoa five decades ago.
Central Park NC/Yadkin Pee Dee Lakes Project was one of the stakeholders that declined to sign the agreement Alcoa proposed to allow it to control the river for 50 more years. There are two reasons: (1) It did not promise any clean up of contamination from Alcoaís shuttered smelting operations, and (2) it did not require the creation of any jobs or sufficient economic impact to benefit the people of North Carolina. Though Washington does not consider these two issues important for a license, we who live here do. And so do people in other states with licensed hydroelectric projects.
For example, the New York Power Authority ó a public benefit corporation ó uses the electricity generated by New Yorkís rivers to create jobs by selling low-cost power to companies as an incentive to bring jobs to New York. According to their 2010 annual report, low-cost electricity provided by the NYPA has created more than 300,000 jobs throughout the state, with 2,490 jobs created or retained in 2010 alone.
Wouldnít we be wiser to use the 940 million kilowatt hours of hydro-electricity from the Yadkin River the same way? To create local jobs rather than profits for a multinational corporation?
An unfortunate result of globalization has been that more and more of our businesses no longer have meaningful connections to our communities, and what little wealth we have streams out of our communities to corporate headquarters and then across the globe. The average life expectancy of a company used to be 75 years. Now it is 12.5 years due to constant acquisitions, mergers and breakups. Putting our hopes on one company to provide the jobs we need for the next 50 years seems foolhardy and risky at best.
According to the North Carolina demographer, our state expects a 55 percent increase in population by 2030. Among other things, these new people are going to demand the very things that make life possible: land, clean water, clean air, energy and lots of it.
The good news is that we have lots of it ó natural resource wealth, that is. If we can keep it.
The bad news is that we suffer from a myopic, poverty-clouded mindset.
For many of our counties, the result of a long period of plant closings and rising unemployment has been a myopic belief that any business is good business, and that itís OK to give away the golden goose as long as we get a few jobs and a little money in our pockets. Too many of our leaders are too willing to take the first thing that comes down the pipe without looking at the bigger picture. Such shortsighted gains often lead to long-term pains.
Now we stand at an important historic crossroad: We can provide our people with wealth generating, clean, renewable energy and use it to attract scores of new, clean industry and thousands of jobs as other states have done successfully. Or we can give away this resource to one out-of-state company for the next 50 years and trust that it will provide perhaps a few hundred jobs (though it has no requirements to do so) and sell us sufficient clean drinking water at a price.
We must avoid the exploitative patterns of the past and instead adopt a new approach that aims at building community wealth through local ownership and control of our natural resources.
Letís start with the Yadkin River.

Nancy Gottovi is the executive director of Central Park NC, a regional sustainable development organization based in Montgomery County.

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