Alcoa receives long-term federal license for Yadkin dams

Published 12:10 am Friday, September 23, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — After years of trying, Alcoa has received a federal operating license for its dams on the Yadkin River.

Issued Thursday, the license lasts until March 31, 2055. It comes after nearly a decade of legal battles with state and local governments. Previously, the dams were used to power Badin Works, an aluminum smelter that no longer operates.

Alcoa is in the midst of selling its Yadkin River dams to Maryland-based Cube Hydro. The sale is expected to close by the end of 2016, according to Alcoa.

“We are pleased to receive the federal license and are confident that Cube Hydro will continue to build upon our century-long legacy of generating clean, renewable energy and protecting the natural resources of the region,” said Ray Barham, Alcoa’s relicensing manager for its Yadkin Dams.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s license decision is 147 pages long and contains a number of conditions relating to water quality, erosion control, public recreation and other enhancements.

One example of an item included in the license is that a swimming beach must be built on High Rock Lake.

The license also includes requirements about High Rock Lake water levels. In the license, full pond elevation is listed at 623.9 feet. The required minimum level from April to the beginning of November is listed at 619 feet. From December to the beginning of March, it’s listed at 613.9 feet.

In the license, FERC does not require a flood protection plan for the Grant Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility. The city of Salisbury’s wastewater plant can be affected by flooding because of High Rock Dam, but the license says a protection plan is unnecessary.

When asked about the newly issued license on Thursday, Chairman Greg Edds of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners noted a number of positives.

“This settles the relicensing issue, brings stability to long-term investment and decision-making, improves property taxes and starts the process of making recreation improvements on the Rowan County side required by the relicensing agreement,” Edds said.

Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott had a mixed reaction to Thursday’s decision.

“We are disappointed that FERC chose to issue this license rather than re-opening the process to make sure that the public interest was best served,” Scott said. “At the same time, we are pleased that this license is for a shorter term and incorporates a variety of water quality protection requirements as a result of Yadkin Riverkeeper’s fight against the original application.”

Alcoa sought a 50-year license; it received a license that is effective for about 38 years.

Scott said the Yadkin Riverkeeper organization is still in the process of reviewing the full 147-page document.

Cube Hydro could not be reached to comment on the issuance of the license. The company, however, will be subjected to the terms listed in the license once a sale is complete. In a previous interview with the Post, Cube Hydro CEO Kristina Johnson said Alcoa will be responsible for some items in the license while her company will be responsible for others, such as improving water quality.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.