Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State, Private Interests at Stake in ALCOA Dam Dispute

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

State, Private Interests at Stake in ALCOA Dam Dispute

Article excerpt

Alcoa and North Carolina are locked in a legal dispute over the Yadkin River, the site of four hydroelectric dams that once powered the aluminum producer's Badin, N.C., smelter.

The aluminum producer idled the smelter in 2002 and permanently closed up shop there eight years later, a slow death that devastated the region. All that remains are Alcoa's dams, strung out over about a 40-mile stretch of the Yadkin. The first was built in 1917; the last in 1962. Collectively, they can produce 215 megawatts of electricity annually, which Alcoa sells to utilities.

Although Alcoa's smelting plans these days center on Saudi Arabia and other low-cost locales, the company wants to make a long-term commitment to the Yadkin dams. Since about the time it pulled the plug on Badin's smelting operations, Alcoa has been seeking a 50- year renewal of a license to operate the dams from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That doesn't seem right to some state officials. Since the dams no longer serve the public interest by supporting local jobs, they are no longer supporting Alcoa. The previous license expired in 2008 and Alcoa has operated on one-year extensions since then.

Former Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, supported a state takeover of the dams, something her Republican successor is pursuing. Gov. Pat McCrory went to state court in 2013 seeking a ruling that the riverbed that the dams sit on are state property and that Alcoa does not have a right to the property.

"The benefits of the Yadkin River belong to North Carolina's people," Mr. McCrory said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. "We should be able to use it for North Carolina water needs and to create North Carolina jobs."

The lawsuit was transferred to federal court, where a trial is expected this year.

Alcoa views the issue as a pure and simple case of public theft of private property.

"It's a clear threat to our property rights - and the rights of anyone who owns property along a waterway in North Carolina," Ray Barham, the Alcoa official in charge of the company's effort to relicense the dams, wrote in a post on Alcoa's website.

In court papers, the company said North Carolina has never asserted ownership rights over the riverbed. …

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