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Judge again rules in favor of Alcoa in suit against NC

Alcoa notched another court victory last week in the company’s effort to relicense its dams on the Yadkin River.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins on Friday afternoon upheld a previous administrative court ruling that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources exceeded its authority and acted incorrectly when denying Alcoa’s request for a water quality certificate. The certificate is needed from state government before the Federal Energy Regulatory commission can issue a long-term operating license for the company’s dams.

“We’re pleased the court has reaffirmed what we’ve known all along: the state had no legal reason to deny our application,” said Ray Barham, Alcoa’s relicensing manager for the Yadkin Project.

Issues surrounding the relicensing stem from the closure of the company’s Badin Works facility in Stanly County. It once employed hundreds of people. Dams were constructed on the Yadkin to help power Badin Works, a smelting facility.

Alcoa’s operating license for its four dams on the Yadkin River initially expired in 2008, a few years after it ceased operation of Badin Works. When the smelting plant closed, hundreds lost jobs. The dams no longer powered Badin Works, but continued to generate energy.

The company initially sought to renew its license in 2012. It was denied on Aug. 2, 2013. On the same day, the N.C. Department of Administration filed a suit challenging Alcoa’s ownership of the riverbed beneath its dams. Alcoa won that challenge in court.

In the latest court challenge, the state’s original denial of the water quality certificate is at issue. In his ruling, Collins calls the denial arbitrary. He says the denial was based on an inappropriate factor unrelated to  water quality.

“The well-documented last-minute contacts made by the (Department of Administration) and governor’s office including correspondence from the N.C. Department of Justice, sought to convince (the Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to deny the application as invalid,” Collins said in his ruling.

He said Alcoa would have received a water quality certificate if the request was only judged on its merits. Alcoa’s water quality permit was denied based on the “secret intervention of (the Department of Administration) and the governor’s office into the process, including the 11th-hour filing of the lawsuit claiming ownership of land under the Yadkin Project dams on that deadline,” Collins said in his ruling.

He said a final report recommended approving Alcoa’s application and issuing the necessary water quality certificate before other government entities intervened.

Collins ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to review Alcoa’s water quality certificate based on its merits within 30 days of the court decision on Sept. 25.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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