A new poll commissioned by Central Park, NC has gauged public opinion regarding Alcoa Corporation’s application for a new 50-year license to control part of the Yadkin River to produce hydroelectricity for the benefit of its shareholders. A survey of 500 registered voters across North Carolina indicated that most North Carolinians overwhelmingly oppose such an agreement.
Alcoa Corporation, a Pittsburgh-based aluminum corporation, was granted a federal license in 1958 to use the Yadkin River for 50 years to generate low-cost hydroelectricity for the production of aluminum at its Badin smelter. The aluminum plant was permanently shut down in 2006, and Alcoa now uses the electricity generated by a series of hydroelectric dams to sell on the open market. The company currently employs about 30 people in Stanly County, and according to its own reports generates approximately $46 million in revenues each year from the Yadkin River. The company applied for a new license in 2008 to continue to produce hydroelectricity. The relicensing process has stirred up much controversy and concerns over the past three years. Many environmentalists and state and local officials in the region have remained steadfast in their belief that the river should be controlled by a publicly held trust in order to provide better benefits to the region and state. They believe the hydroelectricity can be used to attract thousands of jobs in coming decades, as well as provide critical water supplies to meet the needs of the state's 9.5 million and growing residents.
To add to the controversy, Alcoa lost a critical water quality permit last year when internal company e- mails showed that officials withheld information that downstream waters may not meet state standards. In addition, although elevated levels of PCBs produced by Alcoa have been found in fish in the river, Alcoa fought the installation of signs along Badin Lake warning people not to eat the contaminated fish, which infuriated many local lake residents.
Most recently, Alcoa Inc. and a newly formed start-up company, Clean Tech Silicon and Bar LLC, announced the company would hire 250 workers near the site where Alcoa once ran the smelting plant that employed several hundred. However, they are making jobs contingent on Alcoa receiving the federal license. They have given state and local officials a December 15 deadline to either drop their opposition to Alcoa’s license, or risk the company taking the jobs elsewhere.
According to Nancy Gottovi, Executive Director of Central Park NC, the December 15 deadline looks like an attempt to apply enormous political pressure on local officials and the Governor to drop their opposition to the 50-year license. “They are threatening to take away these jobs that don’t even exist yet. They have used the same threats in New York State and are currently doing so in South Carolina – although of course, Alcoa is threatening to remove existing jobs in those two states. Alcoa Corporation does not employ a significant number of people in North Carolina.” She added, “We don’t think Alcoa or any other company should be rewarded for this kind of behavior.”
The statewide survey also found that 72% of North Carolina registered voters said no to Alcoa being granted a new 50-year license while 76% stated that they would prefer that a “public trust” control the Yadkin River and use the hydroelectricity as an incentive to bring jobs to North Carolina. The majority of voters (60%) also indicated that they were usually skeptical when a multinational corporation like Alcoa tells a community they will provide permanent jobs. The majority of voters (58%) also agree with the statement “Every effort must be made to protect our water resources, even if it makes recruitment of industry more difficult.” An overwhelming majority of voters (74%) support Governor Perdue’s opposition to a new 50- year license for Alcoa to control the Yadkin River because she believes the waters of the Yadkin River belong to the people of North Carolina and should be used to help create new jobs and economic opportunity for the region.
Central Park NC authorized Public Policy Polling (www.publicpolicypolling.com) to conduct a telephone poll December 1-4, 2011. Gottovi felt the poll was necessary after Alcoa issued an abrupt deadline of December 15 to Stanly County Commissioners, and that not enough information had been gathered regarding alternative scenarios for the future of the river, or public opinion about the control of the Yadkin River. The Yadkin River is the second largest river in North Carolina and supplies drinking water to 83 municipalities.
“We were concerned that the Yadkin relicensing issue was being seen as a local Stanly County issue, and that the opinions of residents throughout the entire river basin were not being heard. We also see this as a major public policy issue that has implications for the entire state. The control of water resources is immensely important as we plan for future growth in terms of drinking water, but also for clean, renewable energy. Central Park NC is not sure that giving control over the second largest river in North Carolina to one company for the next 50 years is a wise move, regardless of how many jobs they are promising.”
About Central Park NC
Central Park, N.C.
100 Russell Drived, Star, NC 27356