Governor Easley Signs Bill Directing Commission To Study Impacts Of Yadkin River

Published: Wed Jul 30 2008

The Stanly County Board of Commissioners ( is commending Gov. Mike Easley for signing into law Senate Bill 1046, which directs the Environmental Review Commission to study the impact of granting the request by Alcoa Power Generating, Inc. ("Alcoa") for renewal of a 50-year license to control the water and for a monopoly on the generation of hydroelectric power from the Yadkin River, also known as "the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project." The bill, which Gov. Easley signed July 28, requires the Commission, consisting of members of the state legislature, to consider and develop proposals and include them in a report due Feb. 1, 2009.

The options open for the Commission to study and recommend to the legislature include recapture of the license and restoring a natural resource of the state for hydroelectric power to benefit North Carolina citizens. The recapture option would not take private property away from Alcoa, as some have claimed, because the company does not own the water from the Yadkin and agreed, in its 1958 agreement with the Federal Government, to give up any of the real property that is defined as "project property." Alcoa signed a license in 1958 where it acknowledged that the Federal Government had the right to recapture the project under Section 14 of the Federal Power Act. Additionally, the law provides that the net book value of "project property" be reimbursed to the company in the event the Federal Government invokes Section 14. In exchange, Alcoa received the exclusive right to use the waters to produce hydroelectric power. Alcoa has had the use of the waters on the Yadkin River for 93 years and is now asking for another 50 years. The water rights to generate electricity over the next 50 years are conservatively valued in excess of $10 billion.

Under SB 1046, the Environmental Review Commission can also study and suggest conditions to be placed on a license if Alcoa receives its renewal, ranging from ones protecting the environment to those impacting the economic well-being of the citizens in Piedmont North Carolina. Alcoa has made arrangements in other states such as New York to provide jobs and clean up environmental contamination. This study by the Commission could result in similar benefits for North Carolinians. Also, the Commission can look into state tax breaks that Alcoa received on the promise of maintaining jobs at the Badin Works in Stanly County. Estimates are that Alcoa received $1 million per year in tax breaks on the electricity it generated while it was in the process of shutting down the Badin Works plant and eliminating all the jobs it promised to maintain.

The Environmental Review Commission can consider and develop proposals regarding all of the following issues:
1) Analysis of the socioeconomic impacts of Alcoa’s decision to discontinue its job-producing manufacturing activities at its Badin facility that relied on the use of low-cost Yadkin River hydroelectric power. In 1958 Alcoa received a 50-year license from the federal government on the basis that it could create and maintain almost 1,000 jobs at its smelting operations at the Badin Works, but now all of those jobs have disappeared as Alcoa has discontinued smelting at Badin.
2) Assurance of an adequate, clean future water supply for the region. A study conducted this year by John H. Rodgers, Jr., Ph.D., a renowned water quality expert with Clemson University in South Carolina, found that the available data clearly indicate that Badin Lake, a 5,300-acre reservoir that empties into the Yadkin River through the Narrows Dam, and the area downstream have significant human, health and ecological problems that are and will continue to be affected by Alcoa’s dam operations. The state’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resources is considering the report as part of its review of Alcoa’s water quality certificate application.
3) The allocation of water for non-power uses from the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. This includes such activities as water used for drinking and recreational purposes.

The Environmental Review Commission’s composition is bipartisan and includes members from every region of the state. The Commission meets regularly between legislative sessions to study environmental issues and develop proposals for the General Assembly to consider. By directing the Commission to study the impacts of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, the Governor and the General Assembly have sent a clear message that control of the public waters is an issue of paramount importance to the citizens of North Carolina.

The study by the Environmental Review Commission will not prevent the Governor or any state agency or department from taking any action necessary to protect the interest of the state in the current relicensing procedure. Gov. Easley signed the bill after it received unanimous votes on July 15 in the House Judiciary Committee (15-0), on July 16 in the state House (114-0) and on July 17 in the state Senate (46-0).

The Stanly County Commissioners are on record as opposing Alcoa’s operation of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. They were the first elected leaders to ask the state to intervene in the matter, saying that the state’s water rights for a public resource such as the Yadkin River should take precedence over a private firm such as Alcoa having an unlimited monopoly on it. Similar resolutions were signed by Davidson, Randolph, Iredell, Anson, Cabarrus and Union County Boards of Commissioners, as well as the Centralina Council of Governments, prior to this bill becoming law.

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"All members of the Stanly County Board of Commissioners sincerely express our appreciation to Gov. Mike Easley for his longtime support to us on this issue," said Stanly County Commissioner Lindsey Dunevant. "By signing SB 1046 into law, he is supporting the message echoed by North Carolina citizens and state officials alike: that additional studies need to be completed in order to fully examine all the relevant issues arising out of Alcoa’s use of the Yadkin River, one of North Carolina’s most valuable natural resources."

About This Effort:
In 1958, Alcoa, the world’s leading producer of primary aluminum, secured a federal hydroelectric license for the Yadkin Project on the Yadkin River in Stanly, Davidson, Montgomery and Rowan Counties in the Central Piedmont. In return, Alcoa promised aluminum manufacturing jobs for Stanly County for years to come. Alcoa has now essentially disappeared as a major employer in the region and shut down its manufacturing plants, but it wants to continue reaping the benefits of the Yadkin River after its license expires in April of this year. In addition, Alcoa discharged hazardous pollutants into North Carolina air and waterways for decades while harvesting immense profits from the Yadkin River, but has yet to finish cleaning up that contamination. It has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to obtain another 50-year license. If Alcoa is successful, one of North Carolina’s most valuable water resources will be used to maximize Alcoa’s profits, instead of being used to benefit the people of North Carolina, who themselves are in dire need of affordable electricity, local economic development, and clean, adequate drinking water.

MMI Associates, Inc., Public Relations, Stanly County Board of Commissioners, Water Rights, Gov. Mike Easley, Yadkin River, Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, Alcoa, Alcoa Power Generating, APGI, Study Commission, Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Lindsey Dunevant, Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin

Patty Briguglio
MMI Associates, Inc.
(919) 233-6600
PR Firms Raleigh, NC

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