Group: State owns Yadkin River, not Alcoa
Posted December 13, 2011
Updated December 14, 2011
Winston-Salem, N.C. — An environmental group on Tuesday asked that North Carolina officials determine whether the state or Alcoa owns the Yadkin River in Stanly County.
Aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. has asserted that it owns the riverbed near hydroelectric dams the company has operated for decades. Alcoa is wrangling with the state over renewing its license to operate the dams.
Yadkin Riverkeeper said attorneys for the group uncovered a series of five land grants filed in Stanly County dating to 1899 that show more than 500 acres under the Yadkin River between Stanly and Montgomery counties were granted to someone named W. Smithdeal and, eventually, Carolina Power & Light Co.
"Alcoa has repeatedly confused the public for years, claiming the company owns the land under the dams and the lakes on the Yadkin River," Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said in a statement. "If Alcoa cannot prove ownership, they are not entitled to another 50-year license.
"We are demanding Alcoa produce deed of ownership. The Department of Administration must determine the issue of ownership once and for all," Naujoks said.
The group contends that North Carolina owns the river itself as a public trust resource, noting the General Assembly declared it a public highway in 1885, when a number of small dams were removed.
Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood said the company has had the right to operate the dams for about a century, and the right was reiterated in 1958, when the Federal Power Commission issued a license.
"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 hydroelectricity," Belwood said in a statement. "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."
Yadkin Riverkeeper argues that North Carolina also is entitled to request payments from the owners of the riverbed deeds, since the land grants were subject to a payment provision.
"The General Assembly should consider charging Alcoa for the use of the river bottom. These deeds specify that the owner would expect to pay when the General Assembly asks for rent," Naujoks said.