By Bruce Henderson, Charlotte Observer
Remember the story, a month ago, about the Yadkin riverkeeper challenging Alcoa's title to the riverbed under its Yadkin dams? The issue is still as murky as river water after a hard rain.
The backdrop to this story, of course, is the years-long battle over control of the Yadkin. Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks is among those convinced that Alcoa doesn't deserve a renewal of its federal hydro license after closing the Stanly County smelting plant its dams once powered.
Last month, Naujoks said research by Duke University law students had turned up no evidence the aluminum company actually owns the riverbed. He petitioned the N.C. Department of Administration, which manages state property, to declare that the state owns it.
Alcoa responded that it has all the legal rights it needs to operate its four Yadkin dams, which have been in place for nearly a century.
This week, Administration Secretary Moses Carey Jr. offered four pages of reasons why his department will have no part in the dispute. Naujoks' request, he said, didn't fit the legal conditions under which the department could make such a ruling. The riverkeeper, Carey added, has no legal standing as a "person aggrieved" to make such a request.
Further, Carey wrote, researching the question could require "an extensive title search, potentially going back to colonial times, at taxpayer expense." State rules also allow the secretary to refuse involvement in matters in litigation, as Alcoa is in state administrative court.
Naujoks called Carey's letter a "disappointingly bureaucratic response.""If Alcoa has a deed, they should produce it," he said. "If they have it , and the deed is valid, we will drop the issue. If they don't produce a deed, we will pursue other legal remedies."