Yadkin's waters are gold mine worth more than Alcoa offers

By Virginia Dunn, Charlotteobserver.com

From Virginia Dunn, a Charlotte business strategist and advisor to Central Park NC, an economic development group focused on environmental sustainability in an eight-county region east of Charlotte:

Our country's first gold rush started with the discovery of a large nugget on the Reed family farm in Midland, N.C., back in 1799. Today, the Uwharrie region just outside Charlotte is again home to a valuable natural resource that is set to trigger a new gold rush.

The Yadkin River can deliver billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs to our state - but we need to regain control of it from Alcoa. Its value lies not only in its capacity to generate clean hydro-electricity but also in its ability to leverage other renewable energy sources to meet the future needs of a growing population.

Alcoa understands that North Carolina is sitting on a gold mine but thinks that we are not intelligent enough to realize it. In what essentially amounts to a bribe, company officials are dangling a pennies-on-the dollar carrot with the soft promise of a few hundred jobs when they know as well as we do that our Yadkin waters are worth thousands and thousands of jobs. In exchange, Alcoa expects government officials to bypass regulations and automatically issue the water permit that it needs for a new hydropower license from the federal government. The company believes it can unfairly bait us into ignoring the enormous water quality issues related to its operations in our state. Alcoa also expects us to set aside evidence that surfaced last fall in court indicating that it had intentionally withheld from the state material information on dissolved oxygen problems as it was seeking water certification. The snare is an insult to our wise citizens.

Thankfully, the Stanly County commissioners and other government officials recognize how much today's gold mine is worth and have the fortitude to reject Alcoa's proposal. Our government and business leaders are committed to bringing substantial jobs to our state that equate to the true value of our water. Clean Tech's current interest in Stanly County reflects the power of our river to create jobs. The company would be a welcome addition to the central region. Fortunately, we already have economic development programs in place to accommodate and incentivize Clean Tech to locate here without being trapped by Alcoa's paltry lure. Because we won't play its game, Alcoa is now threatening us with an artificial deadline to unnecessarily rush the process with Clean Tech.

Alcoa should understand that North Carolinians are not stupid. We recognize the value of our modern day gold mine and the billions of dollars it can bring to our state. We know our Yadkin waters are worth tens of thousands of jobs - not the few hundred offered by Alcoa. We also demand the safety of our water for drinking along with its environmental soundness. Alcoa should know that the good people of North Carolina aren't taking the bait.