Uwharrie commission wants agencies toexamine watershed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

By Karissa Minn
LEXINGTON — The Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission is asking state and federal agencies to study contamination issues in the Yadkin River watershed.
The 12-member commission met Wednesday in Lexington for the second time since its formation in January, when it met in Stanly County.
Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, speaking as a member of the public, asked the commission to request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency perform an ecological risk assessment of cleanup in the Badin Lake and Falls Reservoir areas.
Naujoks said a recent study found forms of PCBs, a harmful contaminant, linked to Alcoa Power Generating Inc. in these locations. He said the Yadkin Riverkeeper group has already sent its own request, but he would like the commission’s support.
The commission unanimously agreed to send the letter, expanding the request to ask for evaluation of the whole watershed.
“It should be for the entire watershed, but with the objective of making a judgment on that issue,” said N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco.
At the request of Jason Walser, executive director of the Central Piedmont Land Trust, it also voted unanimously to send a similar request to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Stanly County Commissioner Tony Dennis apologized for the long gap between meetings, citing personal circumstances. He stepped down as chairman of the Uwharrie Commission and asked Max Walser, a former Davidson County Commissioner, to replace him.
The new chairman said he knows many of those in attendance are concerned about Alcoa’s efforts to get a new long-term license for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. Some want to set up a public trust to take ownership of the project.
“We all know that the Big Kahuna and the elephant in this room is relicensing,” Max Walser said. “But I hasten to say that I believe this commission can be involved with and do a lot more than deal with relicensing.”
He said the commission also can address economic development, job creation and environmental issues.
Jason Walser agreed, saying he wants to drive more federal funding to recreational and business needs in this area that involve natural resources.
“I do think the Alcoa issue is important,” he said. “But I want this commission to be here 10 years from now and 20 years from now. … I think we can be a voice to get the attention this region needs desperately.”
During the meeting, he reviewed the legislation that established the Uwharrie Commission in July 2010.
One of the commission’s stated purposes is to “identify and evaluate issues affecting important resources of the region and recommend policies and programs to address those issues.”
Its purposes also include coordinating “with existing local and regional efforts to address threats to important regional resources” and making recommendations to governing bodies “for the use, stewardship, and enhancement of important regional resources.”
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.
N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a guest speaker at Wednesday’s meeting, said he wrote a letter to Attorney General Roy Cooper asking who owns the state’s riverbeds and the water in them. Cooper responded that he would not give an opinion on that issue while legislation is pending.
Hartsell said an answer may be found in English common law, which North Carolina adopted when it became an independent state.
“It says that the state owns the riverbed and the water in the river is the people’s water,” he said.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the commission administered the oath of office to Bill Mullinix, who did not attend the first meeting in January.
It accepted the resignation of member Becky Wallace, whose replacement will be appointed by the governor’s office.
Uwharrie Commission members agreed to set the next meeting in January in Rowan County. The date, time and place have not yet been determined.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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