Editorial: Better option for Yadkin Project
As a Dec. 15 deadline nears for what could be a pivotal decision on the Yadkin Riverís future, Stanly County officials are right when they say Alcoa canít guarantee the 750 jobs and $400 million in investment it has promised to bring to Badin if Stanly drops its opposition to the companyís hydroelectric relicensing.
That kind of guarantee simply doesnít exist, regardless of the company or government entity that promises it. Surely, this area ó battered by the loss of the Badin smelting plant, Pillowtex and other textile plants, along with other manufacturing shifts ó understands that economic crystal balls are inherently hazy. Even when the state is showering companies with incentives, thereís no guarantee those jobs will last. Exhibit A is the much-heralded Dell plant in Forsyth County, which shut down in 2009 after less than four years in operation, with the loss of 900 jobs.
Goes both ways
But there are no guarantees on the other side of this battle, either. Proponents of recapturing Alcoaís hydroelectric license canít guarantee their effort will succeed. We can only be certain that it will entail a years-long process of regulatory wrangling, further court fights, significant compensation for Alcoa and, ultimately, Congressional action. And even if on some distant day state takeover does occur, there are no guarantees the turbines will continue spinning out revenues. In fact, state officials acknowledge this in their ě21st Century Plan for the Use of The Yadkin River Resources,î published in 2009 to bolster the case for recapture. The plan notes (page 6) ěthere could come a time when some or all of the Yadkin River waters now used for hydroelectric power generation are likely to be more valuable to the state for other purposes, even over the next 40 to 50 years.î While thatís certainly true, it doesnít quite jibe with the takeover argument that ěcheap powerî will perpetually drive economic development in the region.
When this battle began years ago, the case against Alcoaís relicensing focused on the jobs lost through shutdown of its smelting plant and its environmental record.
To their credit, Stanly officials have kept up the pressure on Alcoa regarding jobs and economic development. As a result, Alcoa has invested in revitalization of the former smelting site and brought in one company. Now, it has put what appears to be a legitimate offer on the table involving Clean Tech Silicon and Bar (of which it is part owner), with the stipulation that Alcoa will pay the county $1.2 million a year if the company does not meet its jobs and financial commitments.
On the environmental side, Stanly officials and Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks have also been effective in forcing Alcoa to take more responsibility for existing environmental problems. It has finally dropped its denial of any link to PCB contamination and is willing to shoulder more mitigation efforts. If Alcoa is sincere in being a better corporate citizen in the future, it can start proving it by not dragging its feet on remediations and doing more than the regulatory minimum.
The proposal on the table isnít perfect, and there may be other options that need airing, including a licensing period shorter than the 50 years Alcoa wants. However, like many of the diverse stakeholders involved in this process, we believe working with Alcoa is a better option than continuing this standoff in hopes of recapturing the license and taking over the Yadkin dams.
No, there arenít any iron-clad guarantees. But a hard-fought settlement with Alcoa offers a clearer outcome than the turbulent, muddy waters that lie in the other direction.