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Alcoa's Fate On Yadkin River In Raleigh Judge's Hands

A hearing gets underway today in Raleigh that could decide whether or not Alcoa will get another 50-year license to operate dams on the Yadkin River and sell the hydropower for a profit. Before the federal government will consider renewing Alcoa's license on the Yadkin River, the aluminum company needs approval from the North Carolina Division of Water Quality. That's what today's hearing is about. "This is the last chance for 50 years for the citizens of North Carolina to address a lot of these critical issues to protect the health of this river and the citizens that live in that region," says Dean Naujoks of the Yadkin Riverkeeper. The Riverkeeper appealed the water quality certificate state officials issued Alcoa last summer. The certificate has been on hold since then. The Riverkeeper wants state officials to make Alcoa do much more toward cleaning up water pollution. Alcoa spokesman Mike Belwood says the provisions in the certificate are fine. "We believe that the state Division of Water Quality did a very thorough job of considering this issue," says Belwood. "They involved a number of stakeholders and the permit that they ultimately issued is valid." So, years of heated debate and public squabbles over Alcoa's Yadkin River operation essentially come down to the hearing that starts today, and will likely last several weeks. If the judge upholds Alcoa's water quality permit, the company stands a good chance of getting its 50-year hydropower license renewed. If the ruling comes down against Alcoa, the company's license renewal efforts will face certain delay and an uncertain future.