The State of North Carolina is taking aluminum giant Alcoa to court over a series of hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River. It's the latest turn in a decade-long dispute:
Alcoa claims that it owns the four dams it built 100 years ago on the Yadkin River – and the land beneath the dams. It has to have proper deeds for that land in order to get federal approval for a new operating license.
But the State of North Carolina says not-so-fast.
"We've asked Alcoa specifically for the titles and the deeds to the property, and they've yet to show us anything - they've told us we can search the deed files ourselves," says Bill Daughtridge, Secretary of the Department of Administration, which today filed a lawsuit in Wake County asking a judge to rule once and for all that the bed of the Yadkin River belongs to the people of North Carolina.
"We filed the suit today on behalf of the people of North Carolina because we believe they weren't receiving a fair deal," says Daughtridge.
At least not anymore.
The dams originally powered an aluminum smelter that employed 1,000 people. But Alcoa closed the smelter in 2002 and now sells the electricity. In 2010, Alcoa reported after-tax revenue of $24.4 million from its Yadkin River dams.
Alcoa's Kevin Anton says the state is flat wrong about owning the land under the dams.
Would Alcoa be open to sharing some of the profits of the dams?
"Would you be willing to share an additional part of your paycheck?" counters Anton. "We're a private enterprise. We pay the taxes and the fees and everything required of us."
Since the Yadkin River is a public resource, is there a balance Alcoa could strike with the public good?
"Yeah, we get water that is inferior quality delivered into our project and we pass on water that's of a better quality than what came in," says Anton. "So yes, we do provide value to the community."
Alcoa's affect on the water is in dispute. The company's initial application for a water quality permit required to receive a new hydropower license was denied because of evidence Alcoa had deceived state regulators. The company's second application was denied today because of this latest dispute over who owns the land underneath the dams.