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Energy & Environment
A series of stories about the Yadkin River and Alcoa's fight to keep control.

N.C. Wants Full Appeals Court To Re-hear Yadkin River Suit

An Alcoa dam on Badin Lake.
Julie Rose
A Yadkin River dam run by Alcoa. align=left

North Carolina's lawsuit over ownership of the Yadkin riverbed isn't over, even though a federal appeals court ruled against the state this week. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein says the state will ask for a re-hearing of the case before all 15 judges at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The court ruled 2 to 1 this week that the state can't claim ownership of the riverbed in a 45-mile stretch of the river near four hydroelectric dams once operated by aluminum maker Alcoa. Judges said Alcoa proved ownership of the land, and rejected the state's argument that the case should have been heard in state court.

The court also said the state failed to prove the river was ever navigable by large vessels - going back to the 18th century.  That was a key behind the state's ownership claim.  

Law professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond says it wouldn't be surprising if the case wound up at the U.S. Supreme Court, "just  because it does invoke all of these important questions that we have - federal state relations … who holds the riverbeds in states, and private entities claims to those … I think all of that is really interesting to legal scholars and others." 

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert King said he thinks the case should have been decided in state court. That's where the state originally filed the suit in 2009.

Alcoa no longer owns the dams at Badin, High Rock and two other lakes. It sold them to Cube Hydro Partners in February.