Alcoa officials eager for an end to relicensing efforts
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011
By Karissa Minn
BADIN ó Alcoa and its supporters are eager for the company to get a new license for its Yadkin River dams.
But Alcoa officials say time is running out for a quick resolution.
In 2007, 23 stakeholder groups and individuals signed a Relicensing Settlement Agreement with Alcoa supporting the relicensing if certain conditions are met.
ěThereís lots of protection and lots of compromises built into it … including lake levels and land issues,î said Kevin Anton, Alcoaís chief sustainability officer.
Alcoa invited the signatories to a meeting Wednesday in Badin for an update on relicensing.
ěIf youíve been to an arcade and seen the Whac-a-Mole game … it feels to me like weíre in that process,î Anton said. ěIt seems to be a moving target.î
For the past several years, Alcoa Power Generating Inc. has been seeking a renewal of its 50-year license to operate the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project.
Relicensing opponents have said their concern is about jobs, he said, so Alcoa began working to recruit businesses to the area. One of them, Electronics Recycling International, is in the process of starting operations.
They then said it was about the plant, so Alcoa began renovating the site, Anton said.
Some opponents, such as the Yadkin Riverkeeper group, have criticized the company for toxic PCBs found in Badin Lake sediment and fish. Alcoa has said it is not responsible for much of that pollution.
Alcoa is waiting on state and federal approval of a plan to place a cap over an area it does take responsibility for. This would keep the contaminants buried because dredging the sediment would be too impractical, Anton said.
When concerns were raised about water quality, Anton said, Alcoa agreed to improve dissolved oxygen levels with new technology at its dams.
But Stanly County says this solution is not enough, and Alcoa knows it. The county has filed a legal challenge against Alcoaís water quality certificate, which is needed for relicensing.
Vanessa Mullinix, a Badin resident representing a group called Citizens for Jobs, asked if the state could still issue the certificate if the county dropped its lawsuit.
Anton said Alcoa believes it meets the required standards, and its technology is already working at one of the dams. Making that case in court could take several years, but negotiations with Stanly County havenít been successful.
If an agreement cannot be reached by Dec. 15, Clean Tech Silicon and Bar told Stanly County commissioners last week that it will no longer consider locating in Badin.
Clean Tech, which makes silicon for the solar industry and recycles scrap metal into rebar, has said it wants to build a $300 million manufacturing plant in Badin and create 450 jobs in the area.
To bring the business to its former Badin Works aluminum smelting plant, Alcoa said it is offering incentives that depend on a long-term license for its dams.
Alcoa also has pledged to bring Stanly County 750 jobs and $400 million in investments. It has said it will give an additional $6 million to the county for public education and infrastructure.
Alcoa says if it fails to meet those commitments, it will provide up to $1.2 million a year to the county for the life of the license.
But the county has not agreed to the offer. In a press release, it said that it is ěseeking fair and reasonable compensation for the long-term use of the river.î
Stanly County Manager Andy Lucas said he doesnít know if itís possible to meet the Dec. 15 deadline, because the proposed agreement doesnít give enough long-term, legal assurances.
Stanly commissioners will meet for the last time before the deadline at 7 p.m. Monday.
Anton said Stanly County already has lost one potential employer who ědidnít want to get involved in the squabbling going on in the county.î
Horsehead Corp. could have brought 250 jobs and $350 million in investment to Badin, he said, but Stanly County didnít show a ěwillingness to work togetherî to make that happen.
The Pittsburgh zinc recycling company announced in September that it will expand in Rutherford County instead.
But Ali Alavi, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Horsehead, said Stanly County was not difficult to work with.
ěIím not sure where anyone would have gotten that impression,î Alavi said. ěThe site we ultimately chose gave us more flexibility as to the design and layout of our facility.î
Horsehead didnít get too involved in relicensing talks, Alavi said, but Alcoaís hydroelectric project helped make Badin a top choice for its expansion.
ěOne of the things that attracted us to that site was the prospect of very good electricity rates,î he said.
Anton said although some people say Alcoa makes more than $100 million on energy from its dams, it actually brings in about $25 million per year for about $8 million in annual net revenue.
Larry Jones, president of the High Rock Lake Association, said he thinks the Rowan County Board of Commissioners ó which signed the relicensing settlement agreement ó should support Alcoaís offer to Clean Tech.
ěThis is of tremendous importance to the entire region,î Jones said.
During Wednesdayís meeting, Jones asked what would happen to Alcoaís roughly 38,000 acres of undeveloped land if it lost the Yadkin project.
ěClearly, one of the options is to turn it over to development,î Anton said. ěThere wouldnít be a strategic reason to hold onto that as it is.îMontgomery County Commissioner Jim Matheny asked if there are any guarantees that Alcoa wouldnít sell the property once it gets a new license.
Anton replied that upon relicensing, the company has agreed to donate 1,000 acres to Morrow Mountain State Park and make 5,000 acres available for conservation.
Beyond that, thereís no guarantee, but Anton said there is no talk in the company of turning the rest over to development.
After the meeting, High Rock Lake Association member Mark Oden said he thinks the environment in the region is better off with Alcoa.
ěWithout Alcoa, whoís going to be the steward?î Oden said. ěAll of the acres theyíve got as a natural buffer, it acts as a filter and keeps everything pristine.î
He said the relicensing settlement agreement includes several benefits to Rowan County, including a new lake access and swim area, and the region as a whole.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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