State News

N.C. revoking Alcoa certification for Yadkin River dams

Posted December 1, 2010 1:11 p.m. EST
Updated December 1, 2010 5:18 p.m. EST

— North Carolina regulators revoked a key certification provided in Alcoa Inc.'s bid to operate dams along the Yadkin River, claiming Wednesday that the company intentionally withheld information.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the company failed to disclose details on the project's ability to meet the state's water quality standards. Officials said that omission came to light in a hearing about the certification.

"The process of certification relies on applicants submitting accurate and comprehensive information to the division," said Coleen Sullins, director of the Division of Water Quality. "When they do not, revocation is warranted."

Alcoa subsidiary Alcoa Power Generating Inc. said in a statement that it never withheld any "material information." The company plans to immediately challenge the state's revocation.

“Our team of experts developed a comprehensive plan to improve water quality, and we are already seeing improvement,” said Rick Bowen, president of Alcoa Energy. “We do not believe the state’s decision is justified or appropriate.”

The company says it will immediately begin challenging the decision.

A withdrawal of North Carolina's certification would essentially block Alcoa from getting federal approval in their contentious bid to operate four dams for up to 50 more years.

The state Division of Water Quality initially approved Alcoa's plans last year on condition that it include a $240 million guarantee that Alcoa make improvements to its system.

Wednesday's spat is centered on concerns over dissolved oxygen levels. The Yadkin dams are not currently meeting standards as they draw deep water with low dissolved oxygen levels and discharge that water into the river. The state wanted modifications to improve downstream conditions.

Internal company e-mails cited by state officials in a letter to Alcoa show company officials expressing concern that downstream waters may not meet state standards.

Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood said those e-mails were simply a few internal debates among thousands of discussions and that the company ultimately provided all necessary information to the state. He said the company believes that when all the systems are completely in place, Alcoa will meet water quality standards.

The permit is opposed by a variety of state leaders, including Gov. Beverly Perdue, who hope to regain control over the dams and the electricity they produce.