What Really Should Be Discussed Regarding the Yadkin River Hydroelectric Project

The opinion piece below was published in the Charlotte Observer on Nov. 5, 2009. I am republishing this piece on behalf of Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper (www.yadkinriverkeeper.org).

The Yadkin Riverkeeper is one of the many environmental groups in opposition to Alcoa receiving a new 50-year license from the federal government for North Carolina's Yadkin Hydroelectric Project located in central North Carolina. Our group (MMI public relations) represents the Stanly County Board of Commissioners who also oppose Alcoa's 50-year federal request. Support for this opposition has grown to include Governor Perdue, Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, as well as number of other nonprofit groups and elected officials.

Alcoa's environmental record part of Yadkin River debate
It wants to keep harvesting profits while denying pollution.

From Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper:

Media coverage on the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project has focused primarily on Gov. Bev Perdue's efforts to recapture the Yadkin River in the interest of North Carolinians or to grant Alcoa an exclusive monopoly to use this public resource for another 50 years. But there are other issues to this story the public should know. To begin with:

In 1957, Alcoa signed a 50-year agreement with the Federal Power Commission indicating the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project could be "recaptured at the end of the license term" and that Alcoa should "not rely on any assured source of power supply after the expiration of its license for the Yadkin Project." Yet Alcoa continues to misinform the public about the dams it agreed to relinquish 50 years ago.

There are PCBs in Badin Lake linked to Alcoa's old aluminum smelter near the lake. A study by renowned water quality expert Dr. John Rodgers proved this despite Alcoa's denials. Alcoa has no plans to clean up potentially cancer-causing PCBs that have been found in Badin Lake swimming areas and in the fish. According to state reports, there is "significant contamination" at Alcoa's 47 hazardous waste sites. PCB contamination has been well documented at numerous Alcoa sites throughout the region.

Alcoa has appealed the state's fish consumption advisory, stalling efforts to post signs alerting the public about eating potentially cancer-causing fish. Alcoa argued for months that PCBs were from other sources rather than accept responsibility. Alcoa apparently felt it was better to erroneously proclaim innocence rather than allow public notice of a health hazard it created.

No public benefit any longer

Alcoa feels it should not have to comply with federal Clean Water Act requirements. On Sept. 17 Alcoa petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to dismiss the state-issued 401 Water Quality Certification and Clean Water Act requirements needed to obtain the 50-year license. Thankfully, FERC denied Alcoa's request, but it is clear Alcoa feels Clean Water Act requirements that have protected our nation's waters for almost 40 years should not apply to Alcoa. Alcoa has also legally challenged the terms of the state-issued 401 Water Quality Certification (it requested) in an attempt to thwart efforts by the state to address numerous pollution issues linked to the project.

Under the Federal Power Act, the FERC must determine what is in the best public interest and that the waters of America's rivers should not be held by private interests for private gain. Yet Alcoa has enjoyed 90 years of pollution-based prosperity, has exported jobs oversees and sells locally produced hydropower, generating $44 million annually, outside the state rather than to N.C. citizens.

Alcoa's monopoly on the Yadkin River no longer provides a public benefit. N.C. citizens should join Gov. Perdue, Sens. Richard Burr, a Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and our N.C. congressional members to oppose Alcoa's 50-year relicensing effort.


For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.



Great commentary. I especially appreciate the background on Alcoa's continual lying about the original deal.