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January 22, 2013

Lexington Dispatch: Commissioners support Alcoa’s relicensing agreement

by Rebekah Cansler McGhee

The Davidson County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of supporting the Relicensing Agreement Settlement with Alcoa Power Generating Inc. Tuesday night.
 
The decision was slightly divide with a final tally of 5-2.
 
Alcoa is seeking a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to manage operating the hydraulic dams, which spans from High Rock Lake down to Falls Dam near Albemarle.
 
That application is on hold, pending Alcoa receiving the water quality certificate from the state. It initially received the certificate in May 2009, but it was later revoked in December 2010, after the state Division of Water Quality, part of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the company submitted inaccurate data.
 
Len Strong, president for High Rock Lake Association, came before the commissioners as the group's representation, presenting its side of why the commissioners should support the RSA. In his argument,
 
Strong said it was important to distinguish between supporting Alcoa, which was merely another participant in the RSA, and supporting the settlement document itself.
 
Of the many reasons he cited for being a part of the project, Strong repeated the fact that the document was a five-year negotiation project and he felt the compromise that had been reached was a good one.
 
"Admittedly we have had to make many compromises…but we all agreed we have the best possible document to work from. I want to point out that one of the 17 signers is Alcoa. Alcoa has agreed, in writing, to implement of the terms of the RSA," Strong said.
 
The document contains regulations for lowering the lake. If the agreement is put into place, Alcoa cannot lower the lake more than four feet during peak season, April to October. The prior agreement allowed a variance of as much as 30 feet.
 
"The average expected lake level will be approximately two and half feet below pool level," Strong stated.
 
Additional shoreline management revisions have been included in the RSA. The document will regulate pier design, length and minimum water depth. Individual property owners will also be able to manage vegetation in a 100-foot forested buffer.
 
"These guidelines are all spelled out in RSA. The levels and numbers may not be to everyone's liking but they are good, workable, manageable numbers. They are a good set of comprises," Strong said.
Strong added he realized that there were other areas to tackle within the Yadkin River such as permitting issues and pollution but the Tuesday night meeting was solely to address support for the RSA.
 
Alcoa has resubmitted its application for a water quality certification from the state. Strong said the numbers used are real numbers instead of projections. However, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources – Water Quality, has up to one year to approve the certification. Strong said he believes that the commissioner's support for the RSA will expedite the certification.
 
There was some concern among the commissioners about the fact if ALCOA didn't receive the relicensing, there was a possibility the state could take over what was once ALCOA's responsibility.
 
"I have always not been in favor of the state taking over this asset," said Billy Joe Kepley, commissioner. "I am not convinced the government can handle the takeover. They don't have any experience. You could seize the dams and give them to the state and you could live to regret it."
 
Commissioners also felt concerned about Alcoa selling the asset in the future to a foreign, Ethiopian, power company.
 
The RSA document has not changed since the commissioners voted to sign in favor of it in 2007. However, Larry Potts, commissioner, said after more than five years, he would like a chance to refresh his memory.
 
"I'm against voting without reading it," Potts insisted.
 
But Sam Watford, commissioner, put a motion on the table to stand behind the RSA with the commissioners signatures.
 
"I was in favor of signing in 2007 and I'm in favor again…This is a starting point, a great starting place," Watford said.
 
The board approved the signing in support of the RSA. Two commissioners, Potts and Don Truell, voted against signing the RSA, wanting to reread the document. The approval is a reversal of the board's decision from 2007, when it formally opposed Alcoa's efforts.
 
"I, like Mr. Watford, have been in favor of this from the start. I have not had a great deal of success in negotiating with the state on anything. I would rather negotiate with the Ethiopian folks," said commissioner Fred McClure.