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Debating Alcoa’s Future On the Yadkin

Nancy Pierce Photo

Residents in Stanly County spoke passionately Tuesday night about whether Alcoa should receive a water quality permit from the state. The company, which has been in the area 50 miles Northeast of Charlotte for more than 100 years, owns four hydro-electric dams along the Yadkin River. Alcoa needs a water quality permit from the state before it can seek a 50-year federal license to operate the dams. Local residents are divided on Alcoa. Opponents say the company is not a good steward of the river.

“For the State to comfortably sign off on a 401 certification when they know that there’s contamination issues; the fish are contaminated and there’s more studying to done, just doesn’t make sense to me or a lot of the people we represent,” said YadkinRiverkeeper Dean Naujoks.

Naujoks is also concerned over dissolved oxygen levels in the river – a key factor in water quality. Alcoa says it is in compliance with dissolved oxygen standards and fish contamination is on par with many other areas in the state. But environmentalists want to see more testing.

“I think Alcoa has been good stewards of the land. They have protected that land. We have a pristine river, almost and that’s very few – you don’t see that,” Vanessa Mullinix countered.

Supporters of the company credit Alcoa for keeping about 16,000 acres of land largely undeveloped.

Since the company’s last 50-year federal license expired, it has applied for a Water Quality Permit twice before. According to the state there was a procedural error the first time. The second application was approved, but environmentalists contested Alcoa’s application. After inaccuracies about dissolved oxygen levels were found in the application, that permit was revoked.

Alcoa says it plans for up to $80 million in upgrades to the dams should it receive the proper approval. The company profits between $8-10 million annually off of the electricity it sells from the dams, and has said selling the structures, along with a new long-term license could be worth $500 million. The Division of Water Quality is expected to rule by September.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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