By David Bodenheimer, The Dispatch
In just its second meeting since January, the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission approved a motion to request the Environmental Protection Agency and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources conduct an ecological risk assessment of the Yadkin River basin to determine whether PCBs in the water are a human health risk.
The board also elected a new chairman after outgoing chairman Tony Dennis, a Stanly County commissioner, stepped down from the board for personal reasons. Former Davidson County Commissioner and Davidson County Schools superintendent Dr. Max Walser was chosen by the board to fill Dennis' void.
Commissioner members Roger Dick, CEO of Uwharrie Capital Corp., Bill Mullinix, Keith Crisco, secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce, Jason Walser, executive director of the Central Piedmont LandTrust and Jim Nance, former board member of the N.C. Department of Transportation approved Walser's appointment. Commission members Martha Sue Hall, Dee Freeman, Zoe Hanes and Dr. David Jones were absent Wednesday.
The commission was formed to explore economic development and preservation of the Uwharrie region, made up of the surrounding land and lakes formed by damming of the Yadkin River. The region spans Davidson, Rowan, Montgomery, Stanly, Anson and Richmond counties.
The commission will also focus heavily on Alcoa Power Generating Inc. and the company's attempt to obtain a second 50-year license giving them control of the Yadkin River for its hydroelectric project.
Walser, who said he hopes to jump-start the commission's activity, called the issue with Alcoa the "elephant in the room" and one that deserved much attention.
The commission heard recommendations from area residents as to what they would like to see the commission explore. Suggestions ranged from determining if Alcoa would gain control of 16,000 land acres if a new license was granted to legal determinations on whether the river belongs to the state and how might the state run the dams if they were to manage to gain ownership.
During the public comment period, the commission heard from Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks who asked the board to support his efforts in calling for an investigation by the EPA to examine PCB levels in Badin Lake that Naujoks alleges are a result of Alcoa's former aluminum smelting process.
Naujoks told the board he wants the EPA to launch an investigation after he found elevated levels of PCBs in Badin Lake fish. The commission agreed and added that any investigation should include the entire Yadkin River basin.