Report details benefits if state takes control of Alcoa-operated dams on Yadkin

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 7, 2013

SALISBURY — Supporters of Alcoa Inc. bristled at a report that showed local jobs and millions of dollars could be available if North Carolina claimed control of four Alcoa-owned dams on the Yadkin River.

The report was presented Wednesday by economist Michael Shuman to the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission at a hearing in Mocksville. Advocates for state management of the dams argue economic development in the area could boom if the state took control.

Alcoa has sought another 50-year federal operating license since its original one expired three years ago.

If the state got control of the license sought by Alcoa, Shuman said, the state could see between $750 million and $1.2 billion in hydropower revenues, depending on the future price of electricity.

Critics have fired back saying Alcoa has donated land, provided grants and boosted the local economy themselves. They also say the state has no right to take private property.

Larry Jones, president of the High Rock Lake Association, and Ray Barham, Alcoa’s relicensing manager, both spoke against the report after the presentation Wednesday afternoon.

Jones criticized the board for spending taxpayer money on the report he described as “propaganda” that pushed the commission’s agenda.

“The report that I saw presented up here is full of incorrect information, erroneous information and information that was addressed long ago,” Jones said, adding he hadn’t yet had time to thoroughly examine the report.

Barham said the report was flawed in the premise that the state could still recapture the license. Legislation to address the issue previously died in the N.C. General Assembly.

“The state really shouldn’t be trying to look at controlling or taking private dams and private property,” Barham said. “It’s not what this commission is about on economic development.

“What’s next? Do they take away private businesses? Is it farm land, or do they take away oceanfront property because the state wants to set up a casino or a hotel? That’s the danger you’re talking about when you look at this issue.”

Shuman began the presentation by showing state economy statistics and poverty rates compared to the national averages. North Carolina didn’t look strong in either.

“North Carolina cannot afford to get this wrong,” Shuman said.

The state could also see between 350 to 560 more permanent jobs with state-owned dams, Shuman estimated.

“There may be reasons why North Carolina is not fit to manage this project but my conclusion is economics is not one of them,” he said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.