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Charlotte Area News

Alcoa cheers legislative victory, still faces hurdles on Yadkin River

To read the headlines last week - and the company's own press release - Alcoa scored a major victory in its quest for another 50 year license to operate dams on the Yadkin River. But the company is technically no closer to getting that license. WFAE's Julie Rose explains: Keep in mind that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, ultimately decides whether Alcoa can continue operating its dams on the Yadkin River and selling the electricity for a profit - or whether the whole operation should be turned over to the state of North Carolina. While the FERC is mulling those options, the North Carolina General Assembly has been hatching a plan to create a "trust" that would manage the dams if they were put in the state's control. The bill sailed through the state Senate with overwhelming support but slammed into a wall last week when a House committee refused to pass it along. "You know, Alcoa did a good job of convincing the majority of the members that this was, in effect, a government takeover of private property and that just didn't resonate with some of the members and I think it was a victory for them," says Ashe County Representative Cullie Tarleton, chairman of the House Water Resources and Infrastructure Committee. Incidentally, Tarleton disagrees with Alcoa and thinks the company should turn its dams over to the state of North Carolina. Alcoa built the dams to run an aluminum smelter which it has since closed down. Opponents of Alcoa's relicensing effort - like Stanly County Commissioner Lindsey Dunevant - are downplaying the House committee vote because it has no legal impact on what the FERC decides. But Dunevant does worry that federal regulators will look at the committee's vote and make some assumptions, "as to how serious they are about this process and this project. So while we feel it's important the right signal get sent, it's not imperative to other efforts that might lead to recapturing the project." Besides, Dunevant says 8 members on a committee of 15 voted against the bill last week, compared to the Senate where the vote was 44 to 4 in favor of the measure. He obviously hopes the FERC pays more attention to that vote. But he's also at a loss to explain the difference between how easily it passed in the Senate so easily, and didn't in the House.