Opponents of Alcoa Inc.’s effort to win a new 50-year license to operate four hydroelectric dams along a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River blasted the company yesterday for failing to deliver jobs and clean up pollution it created around the dams and its lakes.
About 150 people gathered at the home of Cathy Dunn, a High Rock Lake resident who wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject Alcoa’s license-renewal bid. Alcoa’s license expired in 2008, and its effort to renew is being strongly opposed by environmental advocates and politicians, ranging from county commissioners to Gov. Bev Perdue.
Perdue is positioning the state to take control of the dams if FERC rejects Alcoa’s bid.
Alcoa is currently operating on a temporary license.
Dunn, a Davidson County commissioner, said she was acting as a private resident. She has recently joined forces with several organizations to form the Yadkin River Alliance. Other groups include the N.C. Water Rights Committee, Save High Rock Lake and the Stanly County commissioners.
“This issue could be one of the most historical issues in North Carolina,” Dunn said. “I want everyone to understand why FERC should issue this license back to the people of North Carolina.”
Yesterday, those at Dunn’s home listened to short speeches by state Sens. Fletcher Hartsell and Stan Bingham, as well as Max Walser, the chairman of the Davidson County board of commissioners, and Keith Crisco, the N.C. secretary of commerce.
Alcoa did not send a representative because it did not think there would be a balanced discussion, said Mike Belwood, a spokesman for the company.
The crowd did, however, include Alcoa supporters, who participated in a question-and-answer session.
Several speakers painted Alcoa as a dishonest company that did not live up to its promise to create 1,000 jobs at its aluminum smelting plant in Badin, which closed in 2007. The company continues to operate its four dams to create hydroelectric power, which is sold on the open market for more than $40 million a year.
Now that the smelting-plant jobs have disappeared, Crisco and others questioned how Alcoa is serving the public’s interest by continuing to operate the dams and plant.
“I was in high school in Stanly County in 1958 and the deal then was for 900 jobs, you get to use our water,” Crisco said. “Today, no jobs. No use of water. That is the deal.”
The state, Crisco said, wants to be in a position to “recapture” the license if FERC rejects Alcoa’s bid.
“It’s not a government takeover,” he said. “It’s simply doing the best for our citizens.”
“We bought the property, developed the dams and worked hard to operate them for many, many years. We do believe that what is happening there is an attempt by the government to take private property. Anyone who believes in private property rights should be concerned by this effort,” Belwood said.
Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, said the contaminants left behind by the smelting plant have created an environmental mess that the company has failed to acknowledge.
“Yes, people have died from this contamination,” Naujoks said.
Belwood said that Alcoa has worked with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clean up identified sites.
“Where issues have been identified, we’ve taken steps and worked very closely with the state,” he said.