Yadkin River Advocates Urge Perdue to Deny Alcoa Certificate

By Lisa O'Donnell, Winston-Salem Journal

Stakeholders on both sides of the Yadkin River debate expect to hear today whether Gov. Bev Perdue will grant Alcoa Inc. a water-quality certificate in exchange for a new manufacturing plant that will create about 450 jobs in Stanly County.

The permit is a key piece of documentation that is needed for Alcoa to renew its 50-year license to operate four hydroelectric dams on a 38-mile stretch of the river. The dams generate millions each year in electricity sales.

Officials with Clean Tech Silicon & Bar LLC, a startup company that incorporated in Delware in August, told Stanly County commissioners in November that it would withdraw its plans to build in Badin if Perdue does not grant a certificate by today.

Alcoa and Clean Tech, which makes silicon for the solar industry, announced plans for the plant last summer.

Alcoa, the country's largest aluminum maker, operated a smelting plant in Badin for several years, closing it in 2002. It is appealing the state's revocation of its license.

The state revoked Alcoa's water-quality certificate last year, saying that Alcoa purposely withheld information about how it planned to address dissolved oxygen levels in the river. Yadkin Riverkeeper, an environmental group, said last month that a study of mussels in Badin Lake and fish tested downstream show the presence of PCBs in the aquatic life. Alcoa has maintained that the levels are no risk to humans. PCB production was banned by Congress in 1979 because of its classification as a toxin.

Mike Belwood, an Alcoa spokesman at its corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, said that the Clean Tech project would be a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the economy of Stanly County and in the region."

That company would make a significant investment in the county and create high-paying jobs, Belwood said.

"We are hoping that everyone involved can reach an agreement to allow this project to proceed," Belwood said.

Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, has been among the most vocal opponents of Alcoa's relicensing efforts, citing what he calls its "toxic legacy" at Badin Lake. The Riverkeeper is a nonprofit organization that is part of a larger network of water conservationists and advocates. Its Yadkin office is based in Winston-Salem.

Naujoks has been asking supporters to email and call Perdue's office, encouraging her not to award the permit.

"We just want her to know that this is the people's river. It belongs to the state," Naujoks said. "And we want her to stay the course on this issue."

Chris Mackey, a spokeswoman for Perdue's office confirmed that the office had received several emails and phone calls about the issue.