State Sues Alcoa Over Ownership Of Yadkin River

Aug 2, 2013

Alcoa's Narrows Dam with Badin Lake in the background, on the Yadkin River
Credit Nancy Pierce Photo / DO NOT USE

The State of North Carolina is suing ALCOA over ownership of submerged water along the Yadkin River.

The basic elements of this story are water, hydroelectric dams and naturally, lots of money. ALCOA owns four dams along the Yadkin River that make electricity. Those dams used to provide power for an ALCOA aluminum smelting plant in Stanly County, where the company once had hundreds of employees. The company wants another 50-year federal license to operate the dams. But the factory is closed, the electricity produced is sold out of state and there is a question about who owns the river bed. 

“Well North Carolina has always claimed that we own the river beds and Alcoa claims they have some sort of title, but they have been unable to show that title to anyone,” Secretary of the Administration Bill Daughtridge.

Today Daughtridge’s office sued ALCOA. They’re asking a judge to declare who owns part of the Yadkin River bed. Hours later the Division of Environment and Natural Resources denied the company’s application for a Water Quality Certificate because of the lawsuit. That certificate is a necessary part of the company’s efforts to secure a long-term federal license to operate hydroelectric dams on the river.

It’s important to us and the citizens of North Carolina that we are really receiving a fair deal. The people of North Carolina never gave away their ownership interest in the Yadkin River. And we felt like it’s our river and we should use it to the benefits of the North Carolina Citizens, said Daughtridge.

Meanwhile, ALCOA says it does have the proper documents to ownership.

“We’re a little bit shocked and dismayed today, but undeterred,” said Kevin Anton --- Chief Sustainability Officer for ALCOA.

“Ownership of submerged lands is not a state issue, it’s a federal issue that was reconfirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012 in a nine to oh decision in a Montana Case. We’re confident we have ownership and assets of the land and we believe that will be firmly established in court,” Anton said.

The case Anton referred to involves a seemingly similar dispute between a company and the state of Montana. No court date has been set for the lawsuit. ALCOA has 60 days to appeal the denial of the Water Quality Permit.