Viewpoint

North Carolina’s disrespect of property rights

Highly purified aluminum is poured at the Alcoa Badin Works plant in Stanly County in 2012.
Highly purified aluminum is poured at the Alcoa Badin Works plant in Stanly County in 2012. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

When a federal judge publicly compares the State of North Carolina to a “banana republic that confiscates property,” it’s time to sit up and pay attention.

That’s exactly what happened in a Raleigh courtroom in August when U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle criticized the state’s attempt to claim ownership of the property beneath four hydroelectric dams along the Yadkin River as a “thinly veiled power grab.”

The dams in question are owned by Alcoa, the nation’s largest aluminum company. The state has been trying to confiscate the company’s dams for nearly a decade, claiming that Alcoa’s decision to curtail a Stanly County aluminum plant after nearly 90 years somehow means the Fortune 500 company no longer deserves the right to generate clean, renewable energy along our rivers.

It’s an outrageous abuse of the state’s power and emblematic of the state’s ever increasing efforts to deprive us of our property rights that led me to establish the N.C. Property Rights Coalition in 2006.

“Private property rights are one of the cornerstones of our free society, and we must be vigilant in protecting our property from unwarranted taking by the government,” I said at the time and it remains true today.

When federal judge Boyle formally dismissed the State of North Carolina’s lawsuit against Alcoa last week, it was no surprise. The lawsuit, filed in 2013, never had a chance of withstanding serious judicial scrutiny.

As an attorney with decades of experience in property rights law, allow me to offer some unsolicited legal advice to the state: Drop the egregious, unlawful effort to seize Alcoa’s property. A federal judge dismissed the case before it even reached trial and an appeal won’t change the underlying facts.

The state’s attacks on Alcoa have significantly delayed the company’s efforts to obtain a new federal license to generate hydropower and the impact of those delays is being felt across the state.

Alcoa’s new license will bring a host of benefits for the people of central North Carolina, including $1 million to support economic development initiatives in Stanly County and many recreational improvements along the Yadkin lakes (the donation of 1,000 acres to expand Morrow Mountain State Park, a new swim area at High Rock Lake, a new waterfront park at Badin Lake, etc.)

I don’t have a personal stake in this fight, but I care deeply about protecting private property rights.

The courts have been clear: There is no dispute about Alcoa’s ownership of its property along the Yadkin River. It’s time for the state of North Carolina to respect Alcoa’s property rights, stop this senseless fight and turn its attention to more pressing issues.

Kieran Shanahan, founding attorney of The Shanahan Law Group, is the former secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety under Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, and a former member of the Raleigh City Council.

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