by Keith Barber

Judge denies Alcoa’s motion to disqualify expert witness

Administrative Law Judge Joe L. Webster denied a motion by Alcoa’s lawyers to disqualify John Rodgers, a Clemson University professor who authored a 2009 environmental study of Badin Lake, as an expert witness during the first day of testimony in a court case in which the Yadkin Riverkeeper and Stanly County are challenging the state’s issuance of a 2009 water quality permit to the aluminum maker. In his study, Rodgers found a close match between polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB congeners used at Alcoa’s Badin Works facility and the PCBs found in fish and soil samples taken from the lake. “Alcoa was trying to destroy the messenger,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that PCBs are probable carcinogens. On Monday, the Riverkeeper’s lawyers called two state environmental officials — Melba McGee and Jim Mead — to the stand. The thrust of the Riverkeeper’s case is that the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not exercise the full scope of its authority under the Clean Water Act when issuing a water quality certification permit to Alcoa last year. The company is seeking the permit as part of its re-licensing efforts to retain control over a 38-mile stretch of the Yadkin that includes four hydroelectric dams. Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood said the company and the state agency had reached an agreement on Monday to reduce the bond amount for the installation of dissolved oxygen enhancing equipment at the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project from $240 million to $80 million. — KTB