Alcoa has been granted a new shot at the state permit it needs to renew its long-contested hydroelectric license on the Yadkin River.
A judge dismissed the aluminum maker’s challenge of the N.C. Division of Water Quality, which granted the permit in 2009 but revoked it the next year. The division cited an “intentional omission” in water-quality data Alcoa submitted.
Last week a state administrative judge agreed with Alcoa’s request to dismiss its appeal of the revocation. That let the company reapply for the permit, this time with data that Alcoa believes will be convincing.
Alcoa needs the permit before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can renew its 50-year license for four dams on the Yadkin. The license has been in dispute for years, with Stanly County and some legislators arguing that the river should be under local control.
Alcoa’s new chance at a state permit is also likely to be contentious. The state will seek public comment once the application is posted online and is likely to schedule a public hearing.
“We’ve got a new application in here, and we’re going to process it like we would for any other (water-quality permit),” said Water Quality spokeswoman Susan Massengale.
Judge Joe Webster rejected the division’s practice of refusing to consider a new application when a previous one was unresolved. The practice is not supported by state law or rules, he said, and could unfairly work against Alcoa.
Alcoa filed its new permit application the day after Webster’s order. Federal law gives the state one year to act on it.
Ray Barham, Alcoa’s Yadkin licensing manager, said the new application includes water-quality monitoring and testing data that was not part of the original filing in 2008.
Since then the company has installed aerators on three of the four units at its Narrows dam, which impounds Badin Lake. That improved dissolved-oxygen levels in the water released downstream, Barham said, and now meets state water standards.
“The debate was over whether (the aerators) worked or not,” he said. “Now that we have proof that it works, it shouldn’t be an issue.”
In a separate matter, Alcoa agreed last month to cap sediment in two sections of Badin Lake that were contaminated by its now-closed smelting plant. Chemicals called PCBs, banned decades ago because they cause cancer and other health problems, have settled to the lake bottom.
Badin Lake is under a state advisory on eating PCB-contaminated fish. Two North Carolina agencies are working with the Environmental Protection Agency to sample fish and sediment elsewhere in the Yadkin River lakes.