Alcoa Power Generating Inc. is taking a new path forward in its Yadkin River operations, according to a company official.
That path includes bringing another business to the Badin Works plant, making $10 million in improvements to that facility and opening a hotline for reporting environmental issues. Alcoa also is trying a new approach to making its case for relicensing of the Yadkin Hydroelectric.
Kevin Anton, Alcoa’s chief sustainability officer, said he was asked when he took his new position in August to get involved in the relicensing effort.
“We saw that the dialog happening in North Carolina was not going anywhere from any side,” he said. “There’s a lot of rhetoric and talking through the press, not necessarily talking to each other.”
Anton said he’s been working to establish two-way conversations between Alcoa and various groups and individuals. He has traveled across North Carolina to meet with the company’s supporters and detractors to listen to their concerns and communicate his message — Alcoa is committed to water quality, job creation and the town of Badin.
For the past several years, Alcoa Power Generating Inc. has been seeking a renewal of its 50-year license to operate the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project. In 2007, 23 stakeholder groups and individuals signed a Relicensing Settlement Agreement with Alcoa supporting the relicensing if certain conditions are met.
But the company now faces opposition from the Yadkin Riverkeeper organization, Stanly County and other public officials, who say Alcoa has committed environmental violations and failed to provide jobs. Meetings of those against the relicensing have drawn hundreds of people.
“What we want to accomplish is a win-win situation,” Anton said. “Alcoa retains ownership and operation of the dam, because we firmly believe we are the right and best operator of the project. The environment is preserved, water quality is improved and the Badin site is repurposed.”
Anton said Alcoa, Stanly County and the state are working together to locate a new industry at the Badin Works aluminum smelting plant, which closed in March.
“We are actively pursuing leads,” Anton said. “We wanted to get economic activity going in the area, create some jobs and spend some money in the local economy.”
He said Alcoa plans to spend about $10 million this year on improvements to the facility and demolition of certain buildings that would no longer have a purpose.
Alcoa also announced Thursday that a hotline is now available for area residents to report any suspected environmental issues related to operation of the former Badin Works aluminum smelter or the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project.
The hotline is managed by a third party, EthicsPoint, and is available 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-346-7319.
EthicsPoint will take information from callers, who can choose to remain anonymous, and submits reports to Alcoa for handling. Callers can check back with EthicsPoint to receive updates from Alcoa on the status of the report and answer any requests for more information or clarification.
Anton said Alcoa has repeatedly heard accusations of buried chemicals and other environmental violations that were found “generally not to be true.”
“But if there is something out there unknown to Alcoa, we want to know about it, so we set up a process to make it easy for somebody to (tell us),” he said.
Replacing Gene Ellis as Alcoa’s relicensing manager is Ray Barham, who was operations manager of a similar dam system in Tennessee. Barham was unavailable for comment late last week.
“Ray is on the ground and absolutely involved in all of the details of relicensing,” Anton said. “My role is to kind of help bring everything together.”
On Dec. 1, the N.C. Division of Water Quality revoked Alcoa’s 401 water quality certification, issued in May 2009. The company needs that certification to get a new license.
According to a statement by the Division of Water Quality, when Alcoa applied for the certification, it “intentionally withheld information on the project’s ability to meet the state’s water quality standards for dissolved oxygen.”
“We remain firmly committed to our view that the permit should not have been revoked and information was not withheld from the state,” Anton said. “I think it’s fair to say we’re going to work with the state and provide hard documentation to support our point of view.”
The company has until Jan. 30 to either surrender the certification and apply again with correct information or appeal the revocation before the Office of Administrative Hearings.
Jamie Kritzer, spokesperson with the N.C. Division of Water Quality, said state and company officials met in December about the certification.
“Alcoa indicated that it would provide the Division of Water Quality add information to clarify the record on this permit,” Kritzer said. “As of (Friday) afternoon, we have not received anything from Alcoa.”
Anton said Alcoa is confident that technology it is installing will improve dissolved oxygen levels, and “not complying is not an option.”
Story by Karissa Minn was originally published in The Salisbury Post.