Judge Hears NC Challenge To Alcoa's Rights To Dams

A dispute between North Carolina officials and Alcoa Inc. over the right to control the water and electricity coming from the state's second-largest river system was set to go before a federal judge Wednesday.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A dispute between North Carolina officials and Alcoa Inc. over the right to control the water and electricity coming from the state's second-largest river system was set to go before a federal judge Wednesday.

Both sides were scheduled to argue that U.S. District Judge Terrance Boyle should decide the bulk of the case in their favor.

State attorneys said Alcoa hasn't produced any documents showing ownership of the riverbed below four dams operating there beginning a century ago. The company counters that if North Carolina ever had any ownership rights in the dams or the riverbed under them, they were lost because state officials failed to claim them until Gov. Pat McCrory backed a federal lawsuit last year.

McCrory joined his Democratic predecessor, Beverly Perdue, in opposing a new federal license letting Alcoa run the dams for another 50 years. Both governors have said inexpensive energy from the dams could generate thousands of jobs and that the river's water is important to supply North Carolina's 9.5 million residents.

The state's lawsuit asks Boyle to rule that North Carolina has had riverbed ownership since it became a state after the American Revolution and that the public now has a stake in Alcoa's four hydropower dams.

Ownership of riverbeds beneath commercially navigable waterways has historically gone to state governments upon statehood. Non-navigable riverbed ownership stays with the federal government.

The dams powered a local aluminum smelter that Pittsburgh-based Alcoa, the world's largest aluminum producer, closed in 2007. The company has since sold the electricity to commercial customers.

The dams generated electricity sales of about $30 million over the 12-month period ending in September 2013, the most recent period reported to regulators. Alcoa declined to provide details about operating costs for the Yadkin River dams, or how much the company banked as profit.

The Yadkin River extends for about 200 miles from the Appalachian foothills south through central North Carolina and becomes the Pee Dee River before entering South Carolina on its route to the Atlantic Ocean.

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