Stanly County: Alcoa blocked Clean Tech deal

by Keith Barber

Stanly County’s attempt to bring 450 jobs and an estimated $300 million in investment fell apart last week after Clean Tech Silicon and Bar LLC scrapped plans to build a manufacturing facility on the old Badin Works aluminum smelting site owned by Alcoa.

County officials placed the blame for the deal’s collapse on Alcoa, stating in a press release that Alcoa attempted to tie its agreement to allow Clean Tech to operate out of its shuttered Badin Works facility to the aluminummaker’s efforts to retain control over a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin River that includes its four hydroelectric dams. Alcoa is in the midst of a re-licensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that began in 2004. The state is attempting to “recapture” the resource as allowed under federal law.

Last year, the NC Division of Water Quality, or DWQ revoked the aluminum-maker’s 401water quality certification — a key component of the company’s re-licensing bid. Alcoa Power Generating, a subsidiary of Alcoa, is currently appealing the state’s decision.

Lindsay Dunevant, a member of the Stanly County Commission, said both Alcoa and Clean Tech created the terms of the agreement that tied the federal re-licensing process and the issuance of a 401 water quality certificate to the manufacturing plant and the promised 450 jobs. Clean Tech established a Dec. 15 deadline for Stanly County, Alcoa and the state to come to an agreement, but none was reached. In a press release, county officials said they were working closely with Clean Tech last week to secure the same financial subsidies and incentives guaranteed by Alcoa from any potential new owner of the hydroelectric project. Alcoa rejected the county’s proposal.

Dunevant said Gov. Bev Perdue’s office informed him that the governor remained neutral on the issue of the 401water quality certificate.

“That is a state-issued permit and she was not going to get involved in a regulatory issue, but instead allow the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources to continue working toward a resolution with Alcoa, which is what they are doing,” Dunevant said.

Clean Tech would have employed 250 people with an average wage of $55,000 per year and created an additional 200 support jobs with an average wage of $40,000 per year.

“We don’t see that at this point in time there have been assurances that make us feel comfortable with the jobs that have been offered by Clean Tech,” Dunevant said.

“The county has always been interested in three things — to have a clean environment for future generations including clean water, to have some of the resources or the wealth generated by the river to be utilized by the people of the region or the state and access to clean water for future generations,” he added.

The Alcoa saga continued to unfold last week as the Yadkin Riverkeeper submitted a request for a declaratory ruling by the North Carolina Secretary of Administration “to determine the true ownership of the Yadkin River bed in Stanly Country in order to protect the state’s interests from Alcoa Power Generating, Inc.,” according to a press release.

Lawyers for Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks uncovered a series of five land grants filed with the Register of Deeds of Stanly County dating back to 1899.

“These grants were for land under the bed of the Yadkin River and were granted to a person named as W. Smithdeal, then to Yadkin River Power Co. and eventually Carolina Power and Light,” Naujoks said.

Naujoks said he contacted Alcoa representatives last week to request deeds to prove the company holds title to the land, but has not received a response. YES! Weekly contacted Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood and requested the same documentation. Belwood did not produce the deeds proving Alcoa’s ownership of the Yadkin riverbed, but rebutted Naujoks’ claims.

“Alcoa Power Generating Inc. has all the rights needed to own and operate the Yadkin Project,” Belwood stated. “We’ve successfully operated the project for nearly 100 years, paying more than $1 million a year in property taxes on the land we own and investing millions in capital to generate clean hydro electricity. Our rights and the law are clear and to suggest anything different is ridiculous and irrelevant to the current discussions about bringing economic development and new jobs to Stanly County.”

Naujoks said if Alcoa cannot prove ownership of the riverbed, they are not entitled to another 50-year license.