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Environmentalists: Yadkin River Belongs to NC, not Alcoa

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April 27, 2012

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Several state leaders are joining environmentalists to ask the federal government to deny a request by Alcoa Aluminum to renew a 50-year lease for the Yadkin River.

The river runs 215 miles through west and central North Carolina. Until recent years, it has been used by Alcoa Aluminum to power its production. Environmentalists cite problems such as PCB contamination and 45 hazardous-waste sites around the Yadkin River.

Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, also cites major economic reasons to say "no."

"These other states that have control of their own water resources are actually bringing jobs to their state, and we're getting ready to give away this massive economic driver."

Naujoks says Alcoa uses its four dams on the river to generate electricity and profits by selling it to the highest bidder. Alcoa received a tax break in 2001 to bring jobs to the area, but in 2002 the company moved most of its production overseas.

Roger Dick, chief executive officer of Uwharrie Capital Corp., which helps foster economic development in the region, says that in times when the Legislature is having to cut the budgets of departments and organizations statewide, the Yadkin river could bring revenue and reduce those state budget cuts.

"That wealth is being captured and being transferred into private hands, and the state of North Carolina is receiving very little of the benefit and the wealth."

Alcoa wants to lease a 38-mile section of the river. It's up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to decide whether Alcoa's lease will be renewed. Alcoa says it recently has improved water quality in the area and has a pending project that would bring 200 jobs.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC