Yadkin River

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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. 

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The controversy over Alcoa and its dams on the Yadkin River was back in the news this week. There were two public forums; one about the environment, the other about the company’s request for a water quality permit.  At the heart of this conflict is pollution, questions about control over hydro-electric dams, and the condition of one of the state’s most powerful natural resources, water.

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Residents in Stanly County spoke passionately Tuesday night about whether Alcoa should receive a water quality permit from the state. The company, which has been in the area 50 miles Northeast of Charlotte for more than 100 years, owns four hydro-electric dams along the Yadkin River. Alcoa needs a water quality permit from the state before it can seek a 50-year federal license to operate the dams. Local residents are divided on Alcoa. Opponents say the company is not a good steward of the river.

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Two public hearings are scheduled this week in the ongoing fight over whether Alcoa should be allowed to continue operating dams on the Yadkin River. 

The hydroelectric dams are about 60 miles south of the Triad, and they powered Alcoa’s aluminum plant in Badin for decades. The factory is now closed, but Alcoa is seeking another 50-year federal license to operate the dams and sell the electricity on the open market.

The aluminum company ALCOA wanted to renew their license to run dams along the Yadkin River, but they are faced with resistance from Governor Bev Perdue and some county commissioners. Critics say ALCOA is harnessing power irresponsibly and, in turn, poisoning the river. ALCOA is fighting for their property and profits. Host Frank Stasio is joined by WUNC reporter and Greensboro Bureau Chief Jeff Tiberii with the details of this story.