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Alcoa finally receives water quality certificate from NC

Alcoa’s legal battle with state government is ongoing, but the company now has a water quality certificate needed to continue operating dams on the Yadkin River.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality on Friday announced the approval of Alcoa’s water quality certificate, which applies to the company’s dams at High Rock, Tuckertown, Narrows and Falls reservoirs on the Yadkin River. Water quality certifications are first needed from state government before beginning a federal relicensing process.

Next, Alcoa heads to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 50-year operating license for its four Yadkin dams.

Ray Barham, Alcoa’s relicensing manager for the Yadkin River, said the company is pleased North Carolina issued the certificate and the company is reviewing it.

“The certificate clears the way to a (federal) license that will allow us to implement enhanced water quality technology and additional environmental and recreational benefits promised by the relicensing settlement agreement,” Barham said. “We have been good stewards of the watershed for nearly 100 years and remain committed to meeting North Carolina water quality standards.”

Alcoa’s legal battles with state government began in August 2013 with a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court, which questioned whether the company owned property underneath its dams. The suit effectively stopped Alcoa’s effort to relicense its dams for another 50 years. State government filed the lawsuits after Alcoa closed its smelting operation in Stanly County, but continued using dams to generate hydroelectric power.

Previously, the dams were used to power Badin Works. Since the smelter’s closure, Alcoa has collected more than $175 million by selling the electricity to commercial customers.

Even before the state challenged Alcoa’s relicensing, Stanly County filed suit. When the state challenged Alcoa, however, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources — now DEQ — declined the relicensing.

The state’s certification doesn’t make any determination about ownership of the riverbed, which was addressed by U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle when he ruled in favor of Alcoa and dismissed the state’s suit. The state, however, is appealing his ruling.

Alcoa’s recently granted water quality certificate requires the company to install devices to increase the Yadkin’s levels of dissolved oxygen, needed for aquatic life to breathe, and ensure dissolved oxygen levels meet state standards.

Other requirements in the permit include: a sedimentation and flood protection plan for Salisbury’s water intake; annual water quality monitoring for heavy metals and a number of other pollutants; a clause allowing the state to modify its permit if water quality becomes an issue; and a surety bond guaranteeing financial resources are available to make water quality improvements.

Alcoa says it plans to invest millions of dollars in water quality improvements at its Yadkin facilities when the company receives its final federal license.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

 

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