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Alcoa scores second victory in four days; state suit dismissed

For the second time in four days, Alcoa secured a court victory when a federal judged dismissed a suit over riverbed ownership.

U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle on Monday dismissed a suit brought by the state of North Carolina and ruled that Alcoa owns the riverbed under its dams on the Yadkin River. In his ruling, Boyle doled out harsh criticism of the state’s suit, specifically citing the timing of its filing.

“The state did not file suit immediately upon learning that Alcoa claimed ownership of the property,” Boyle said in his ruling. “Instead, it waited over seven years, until after Alcoa closed the Badin Works aluminum smelting plant, to file suit. It appears to the court that as long as Alcoa’s use of the relevant segment (of the Yadkin River) satisfied the state, the state was content not to challenge ownership.”

When Alcoa closed its Badin Works facility in 2010, resulting in hundreds losing jobs, the State of North Carolina “attempted to assert its ownership interest,” Boyle said.

Badin Works had been powered by Alcoa’s dams on the Yadkin River. When the plant closed, Alcoa continued to use its dams to generate energy.

“When the state originally granted Alcoa the right to obtain the property necessary for construction of the project, no one provided for the fact that Alcoa’s use of the property might change,” Boyle said. “While the court is not unsympathetic to the state’s concerns, it is abundantly clear that the state has no one to blame here but itself.”

Attorneys for the state argued that Alcoa operated the dams with the state’s permission, thereby defeating Alcoa’s adverse possession claim.

Boyle ruled Alcoa satisfied all elements of adverse possession since at least 1962.

Boyle’s ruling comes three days after a superior court judge in Wake County, in a separate case, said the state acted incorrectly when denying Alcoa’s request for a water quality permit — needed for the company to renew its long-term operating license for dams on the Yadkin. On the same day the Department of Environment and Natural Resources denied Alcoa’s permit, the state filed a suit against Alcoa that challenged its ownership of the riverbed.

Boyle in April also ruled in Alcoa’s favor that the relevant portion of the Yadkin River was not navigable, a crucial distinction that squashed the state’s argument that it was entitled to special property rights. Boyle’s ruling on Monday ends the suit and brings the company significantly closer to relicensing its dams.

“With this ruling, we encourage the State of North Carolina to quickly issue the 401 water quality certificate so we can begin making investments in water quality improvements and bringing other significant benefits to the region once a new federal license is issued,” said Ray Barham, Alcoa’s relicensing manager for the Yadkin Project.

In a news release, Alcoa said it plans to invest up to $80 million in water quality improvements at its Yadkin facilities when they receive a federal license.

Rowan County commissioners Chairman Greg Edds is also jumping on the Alcoa bandwagon. On his public Facebook page on Monday, Edds wrote “Mr. Governor, it’s time to stop the appeals on the Alcoa relicensing. Rowan County stands to see a lot of good development happen once the license is renewed. Every judge has said the same thing, and agreed with Alcoa. Time to let it go and approve the license.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

 

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