Yadkin Riverkeeper Calls On Alcoa to Clean Up Its Contamination

After carefully reviewing reports about the history of pollution at Badin Lake, a 5,300-acre body of water that flows into the river in Stanly County, the newly appointed Yadkin Riverkeeper, Dean Naujoks, made the following comments:

“I believe that Alcoa is responsible for much of the contamination at Badin Lake and therefore must be required to clean it up if the corporation wants a license for exclusive use of generating hydroelectric power on the Yadkin River.”

Naujoks, whose job is to respect, protect, and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action as part of the Yadkin Riverkeeper Inc, added that he came to this conclusion after reviewing the reports state leaders have received on the Project.

The Yadkin Hydroelectric Project is comprised of four hydroelectric stations, dams and reservoirs along a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River, the second largest River basin in North Carolina.  The water reservoirs are High Rock, Tuckertown, Narrows and Falls. The Narrows Dam is on Badin Lake.

Alcoa is the world’s leading producer of primary aluminum.  It received a 50-year federal hydroelectric license for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project in 1958 by promising aluminum manufacturing jobs for Stanly County for years to come by continuing to operate the Project it built and began operating in 1916.  However, the company closed its smelter, located on the banks of Badin Lake, in 2002.  Alcoa is pursuing another 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in order to continue producing hydropower for sale, but its application has been delayed over environmental questions from State government agencies and officials.

“I am concerned that available data clearly indicate that Badin Lake and the area downstream have significant human, health and ecological problems that are and will continue to be affected by Alcoa’s dam operations,” said Naujoks.  “It is also disturbing that Alcoa has discharged pollutants into the air and County lands and waterways during the operation of the Badin Works Plant.”  The known contaminants include cyanide, fluoride, PCBs, solvents, metals, hydrocarbons, benzene, naphthalene and methane.

To address these concerns, Alcoa has noted that a formal Relicensing Settlement Agreement (RSA) it signed with 23 major stakeholders in 2007 will resolve most water quality issues associated with the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, such as a planned $240 million investment by the firm to install aeration technology to improve water quality at its dams.  It adds that it tested the water quality below the Narrows dam this year, and the sampling showed that the discharges meet state standards for water quality.

Despite these favorable actions by Alcoa, there are no provisions to address cleaning up contamination left over from decades of Alcoa’s smelter operations.  The FERC license will not require Alcoa to handle the issue either, even if the company decides to sell the license to another party before the 50-year expiration date.  And as no one except Alcoa seems to know exactly where the smelter’s industrial hazardous waste is buried, there is no indication to what extent the contamination has affected Badin Lake and the people who have used this lake for years.

“Alcoa must accept full responsibility to clean up their contamination of public waters. The state of NC must not allow Alcoa to pass their toxic legacy on to the public. Until Alcoa addresses and resolves this contamination issue in a timely manner, my organization cannot in good faith support Alcoa’s relicensing effort because of the concerns we have about its effects on water quality and the potential human health impacts,” Naujoks noted.

“The environmental degradation at Badin Lake is unacceptable and is a violation of water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. The law is very clear the 401 permitting process and ultimately the licensing agreement can not move forward until this matter is addressed,” added Naujoks.  Failure to do so could be fatal to the long term health of the Yadkin River and the hundreds of thousands of residents, businesses and the wildlife who rely on it for sustenance, recreation and economic development.”