Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Positive Impact of Alcoa’s Water Quality Investments: Water Leaving Yadkin Project Hits Mark 100% of the Time

Water leaving the Yadkin Project meets state standards for water quality 100% of the time, according to a report on dissolved oxygen that was submitted to the NC Division of Water Resources in March.

Dissolved oxygen levels are a key indicator of water quality and are often used by state agencies as a benchmark. Alcoa Power Generating (APGI) has been closely monitoring dissolved oxygen levels at the Yadkin Project since 2007 and provides an annual report to the state. The Yadkin Project is not currently subjected to state standards for dissolved oxygen, but it will be once a new federal license is issued.

The report shows that turbine upgrades and other enhancements made several years ago have continued to improve water quality at the Yadkin Project.

“The investments we’ve made at Narrows Dam continue to enhance water quality,” said Ray Barham, APGI’s Yadkin Relicensing Manager. “We’ve spent more than $5 million in new technology at the Narrows Dam and it has been very effective at improving downstream water quality.”

Quality Improves As Water Flows Through the Yadkin Project
Water enters the Yadkin Project at High Rock Lake with relatively low concentrations of dissolved oxygen. After traveling 38 miles down the Yadkin River and passing through four dams operated by APGI, the water quality improves significantly before it is discharged at the Falls Dam.

In 2013, water discharged from High Rock Dam met the state standard for dissolved oxygen 78% of the time (based on daily average measurements). It met those same standards 100% when discharged from Narrows Dam and Falls Dam.

$80 Million in Additional Investments Planned by Alcoa
APGI has committed to investing up to $80 million to continue improving water quality at the Yadkin Project, beginning with a $40 million investment at High Rock Lake. APGI will install three “through-the-blade” aerating turbines at High Rock once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues a new license for the Yadkin Project. The engineering, planning, and model testing of the new turbines has already been completed.

“We will begin work at High Rock Dam as soon as we receive a new license,” Barham said.

# # #

Summary of 2013 Dissolved Oxygen Report Findings
The state measures dissolved oxygen concentrations in two different ways: through instantaneous measurements recorded every 15 minutes, and with a daily average of all measurements in a given day. Here is how the four Yadkin dams performed in 2013 versus a state standard that will take effect when a new federal license is issued:

High Rock Dam (Water enters the Yadkin Project at High Rock)
77.8% compliance with new standard - Daily Average Measurement (Up 39% over 2012)
93.4% compliance with new standard - Instantaneous Measurement (Up 34.2% over 2012)

Tuckertown Dam   
70.1% compliance with new standard - Daily Average Measurement (Up 36.9% over 2012)
87.4% compliance with new standard - Instantaneous Measurement (Up 36.6% over 2012)
Narrows Dam (New technology installed in 2001 and 2007)
100% compliance with new standard - Daily Average Measurement (Up 0.5% over 2012)
99.9% compliance with new standard - Instantaneous Measurement (Same as 2012)

Falls Dam (Water exits the Yadkin Project at Falls) 
100% compliance with new standard - Daily Average Measurement (Up 13.7% over 2012)
100% compliance with new standard - Instantaneous Measurement (Up 3.4% over 2012)

Additional Notes
1. The state standards for dissolved oxygen do not currently apply to the Yadkin Project, but the rule will be applicable under a new federal license.
2. Differences in hydrologic, meteorological and/or other natural conditions or tailwater aquatic vegetation can effect dissolved oxygen levels from one year to the next.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Final Barrier

The Stanly News & Press published on Tuesday a column I wrote regarding the latest developments regarding the Yadkin Project relicensing. Here's a copy of the column, titled "The Final Barrier":

When you stand atop the Narrows Dam, you can see for miles in every direction. There’s the Uwharrie National Forest and Morrow Mountain State Park, both remarkable for their pristine, undisturbed beauty. Between them flows the water of the Yadkin River.

That water – and four dams constructed along the river by Alcoa – has been the topic of much debate in Stanly County for more than a decade.

Dams, by definition, are a barrier. They capture the water flowing down the river and put it to good use – reservoirs like Badin Lake provide drinking water to local communities, generate clean and renewable energy, create recreational opportunities for people who love to swim, boat and fish, and spur economic development in the surrounding communities.

Alcoa has operated its dams along the Yadkin River for nearly 100 years. But when the company sought a new federal license for its dams, a new set of barriers emerged.

Many people in Stanly County were concerned about the jobs that were eliminated when the Badin plant closed. So shortly after the Badin plant was formally closed in 2010, we immediately began working to redevelop the property. We invested more than $10 million to transform the site into the Badin Business Park, which now ranks among the best industrial sites in North Carolina.

In 2011, Alcoa recruited the nation’s largest electronic waste recycler to Badin. ERI opened a regional recycling center that continues to grow.

Our commitment to jobs helped us reach an agreement with Stanly County last spring. The agreement includes significant investments to support economic development and provides the county with long-term access to clean, affordable water to support the county’s growth. We are now working in partnership with the county to recruit new jobs to the Badin Business Park.

In addition, we continue working to make Stanly County a better place to live. Alcoa awarded scholarships to local high school valedictorians, donated land for a Habitat for Humanity home in West Badin, and donated $20,000 to promote science and technology courses in Stanly County schools.

Only one barrier to a new license remained: obtaining a water quality certificate (known as a 401) from the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources that recognized Alcoa’s commitment to meet state water quality standards.

In August, the agency was prepared to issue a 401 certificate for the Yadkin Project.

Our investment in new technology at Badin Lake had resulted in significant water quality improvements. In fact, our annual monitoring now shows that water leaving the Yadkin Project was meeting key water quality standards that will take affect once a new license is issued for the Yadkin Project.

With a proven technology in place and a commitment to spend an additional $80 million to fund further improvements upstream, Alcoa had successfully demonstrated its commitment to water quality.

After months of public hearings and careful evaluation by water quality professionals, DENR was ready to act. It prepared a copy of the 401 certificate and notified us about the impending announcement.

But a new, unexpected barrier emerged.

Gov. McCrory claimed the state owned the land under our dams and filed a lawsuit against Alcoa. His administration inserted itself into the regulatory process and insisted that DENR deny our 401 application.

So, once again, we find ourselves in a familiar place: fighting for the right to run the dams we built on the property we own. It’s a clear threat to our property rights – and the rights of anyone who owns property along a waterway in North Carolina.

For Stanly County, the lawsuit has unfortunate consequences.

It will further delay benefits such as the expansion of Morrow Mountain State Park, the development of a new waterfront park in Badin, the donation of land for a new water treatment plant, the funding of future economic development initiatives, and a host of other benefits for those who live or play on the lakes.

But our commitment to this community remains steadfast.

We will continue working to improve water quality and protect the beautiful natural resources along the river. We will continue providing time and money to support worthwhile causes in the community. And we will continue paying property taxes on the land we are fighting to protect.

We didn’t pick this legal fight, but we are prepared to defend our property rights in court. No matter how long it takes. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Badin family moves into Habitat house built on Alcoa land

Layota Tillman and her two daughters will be celebrating Christmas this year in a new house built by Stanly County Habitat for Humanity. The house, built in West Badin on two lots donated by Alcoa, was formally presented to the Tillmans at a dedication ceremony on December 7.

“We are so grateful to everyone who helped make this home a reality. Alcoa donated the land and a hard-working team of volunteers worked together to make the Tillmans’ dream of home ownership come true,” said Cemita Gibbs, Executive Director of Stanly County Habitat for Humanity. “It is a true blessing.”

This is the 43rd home built by Stanly County Habitat for Humanity.

“It has been so rewarding to work with Habitat for Humanity on creating a new home in West Badin,” said Nicole Wright, who coordinates Alcoa Foundation grants in Stanly County. “Habitat for Humanity does great work in our community and Alcoa employees were proud to contribute to the success of this project.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Alcoa Foundation donates $20,000 to Stanly County Schools

Alcoa Foundation announced today that it has awarded a $20,000 grant to Stanly County Schools. The grant will support efforts to improve student achievement in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) among middle and high school students.  
“Stanly County Schools is thankful to Alcoa for the funding to provide our students with online STEM course opportunities,” said Sandra Carter, assistant superintendent of Stanly County Schools. “The funds will be utilized to develop courses in STEM areas that would otherwise not be available. We appreciate the support Alcoa provides to our students.”

The Alcoa Foundation grant will focus on personalizing STEM online courses for more than 4,500 students at 10 Stanly County schools. The program – called “STEM Education: It’s An Online Opportunity” – is designed to better prepare students for college by helping them become independent learners and analytical thinkers.

“Alcoa Foundation is committed to improve the environment and educate tomorrow’s leaders,” said Nicole Wright, Alcoa Foundation’s local representative. “We’re excited about helping train Stanly County students to become the scientists, mathematicians, and engineers who will be important to tomorrow’s economy.” 

In addition, the grant will support additional STEM enrichment opportunities and training for Stanly County teachers.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Court rules in favor of Alcoa

Judge Terrence Boyle on Wednesday denied the State of North Carolina’s motion to remand its lawsuit against Alcoa back to state court. With that ruling, the lawsuit shall remain in federal court.

Alcoa has maintained that the suit belongs in federal court because the case revolves around the question of navigability as defined by Federal law. Judge Boyle agreed, noting that "questions of navigability for determining state riverbed title are governed by federal law."