YRK Supports NC Legal Action to Establish State Ownership of Yadkin River Bed; Seeks to Intervene to Protect the Public Trust

Today the Yadkin Riverkeeper has taken the next step in supporting the State of North Carolina’s legal challenge to establish State ownership of the bed of the Yadkin River. The Riverkeeper has filed a “Motion to Intervene” in the State’s pending action against Alcoa that challenges the company’s longstanding contention that it owns the riverbed.  Yadkin Riverkeeper has worked for years to force cleanup of pollution in the Yadkin Project and at the Badin Plant.

On August 2nd, the Department of Administration filed a “Petition for Declaratory Judgment” in Wake County Superior Court to defend the State’s title to the bed of the Yadkin River. Alcoa claims that it owns the riverbed on which four of its hydroelectric dams sit, but has not shown the public its deeds or any other proof supporting its contention.  In the State’s filing, they asked the Court to establish that the bed of the Yadkin River belongs to the State; that the bed be held in the public trust; and that the bed not be owned by a private company, Alcoa.

Alcoa claimed in its 401 Water Quality Certification Application that “no public lands” were involved with its hydroelectric project.  As a result of the Department of Administration’s lawsuit, DWR denied Alcoa’s 401 application and will not consider a new application until the ownership question has been settled. 

“Alcoa can no longer dodge the question of who owns the Yadkin,” said Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper. “Our organization has always disputed Alcoa’s claims of ownership. We support the State’s efforts to resolve the river bed ownership issue. The Yadkin River is still not fishable as a result of Alcoa’s legacy of toxic waste. Water released from the dam’s tailraces still do not comply with dissolved oxygen standards.”

Unlike most of the large hydroelectric projects in the State, Alcoa’s Yadkin Project is not regulated by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which is charged with protecting the public’s interest in utility monopolies.  No monopoly can be granted over any of North Carolina’s great rivers unless the monopoly is in the public interest. 

In June, Yadkin Riverkeeper petitioned Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asking them to reopen the licensing proceedings because this project is not in the public interest. By bringing these and other facts to light in the courts, the Riverkeeper can support an official finding of what the State has already declared—that the riverbed belongs to the public and not Alcoa.  It is a public trust resource.

“Yadkin Riverkeeper has always advocated for the public trust ownership of this River,” added Naujoks.  “Public waters of the state cannot be sold away for private gain.  Water is life and clean water is a right that every North Carolinian should expect. Public trust resources should be used to benefit the public by creating wealth and prosperity throughout the region, not for outsourcing profits for investments overseas as Alcoa has done.” 

In North Carolina’s Constitution, Article CIV, Section 5, states that “It shall be the policy of this State to conserve and protect its lands and waters for the benefit of all its citizenry.” Yadkin Riverkeeper fully supports the Department of Administration’s outstanding leadership in filing the current lawsuit, and will continue to support the State by working to ensure that the ownership question is resolved in way that is best for the Yadkin River and the communities that depend on it.