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Drop the dam fight, Governor McCrory

By Larry Jones

For the Salisbury Post

Enough is enough. It’s time for Gov. Pat McCrory and the State of North Carolina to drop the dam fight against Alcoa.

This week, a federal court judge dismissed the state’s lawsuit against Alcoa regarding ownership of the riverbed beneath Alcoa’s dams on the Yadkin River. The lawsuit, filed in August 2013, has effectively blocked Alcoa from obtaining a new federal hydroelectric license for the past two years.

I have lived on High Rock Lake for 18 years and spent the past 13 years representing the High Rock Lake Association and working to improve conditions around the lake. That included more than five years working with Alcoa and other stakeholders to craft a relicensing agreement that will deliver significant benefits to the people at High Rock Lake and beyond.

The negotiations weren’t easy. There were heated discussions and hard-fought compromises. But at the end of the day, we reached an agreement that requires Alcoa to make significant improvements to water quality, extend the recreation season and keep more water in the lake, provide new parks, swim areas and other recreational opportunities, and make changes that will give lakefront property owners more flexibility regarding shoreline development.

All things considered, it’s a good deal for the High Rock Lake Association and other stakeholders. The agreement has widespread approval from local governments, state agencies, recreational groups, property owners and others who care about the future of the Yadkin River.

The only problem: all of the benefits are being delayed by the State of North Carolina.

The federal lawsuit was the state’s latest failed attempt to delay Alcoa’s relicensing. It previously sought to deny Alcoa a required water quality certificate — even though the company has a proven plan in place for improving water quality in the Yadkin River — but a judge said the state acted improperly and reversed the decision in April.

People who care deeply about water quality should be especially concerned about these delays. Alcoa has committed to invest up to $80 million to upgrade technology that will improve water quality in the Yadkin River, but federal law says Alcoa can’t make the investments until it receives a new license.

So we wait.

We wait for needed water quality improvements. We wait for new recreational opportunities, including Alcoa’s donation of 1,000 acres to expand Morrow Mountain State Park. We wait for new drought protocols that will protect our water supply during times of drought. We wait for a host of benefits that the High Rock Lake Association and others fought to obtain. All because of the actions of Governor McCrory and his administration.

It’s time to end the wait.

On two occasions in the past six months, a judge has told Governor McCrory and the State of North Carolina that they are in the wrong. How much longer will they continue this fight, funded with taxpayer dollars, to delay the inevitable relicensing of Alcoa’s dams?

I got involved in this issue because I wanted to protect and preserve High Rock Lake and the surrounding area for my grandchildren. Unfortunately, if Governor McCrory doesn’t come to his senses soon, my grandchildren may be grandparents themselves before they have a chance to reap the benefits we worked so hard to achieve.

Larry Jones of Salisbury is a past president of the High Rock Lake Association and serves on the organization’s Board of Directors.

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