August 02. 2006 1:00PM
Board votes not to sign Alcoa agreement
By WILLIAM KEESLER
By the narrowest of margins, the Davidson County Board of Commissioners
elected Tuesday night not to sign the relicensing "Agreement in Principle"
between Alcoa Power Generating and lake-area interest groups and local,
state and federal agencies.
The decision means the county will have no representative at the
negotiating table next week and in the coming five months as
representatives of Alcoa and other lake-area organizations and agencies
meet at Badin to turn the 65-page AIP into a Resettlement Licensing
"I believe we should have gotten more out of this process than a four-10
proposition," said Max Walser, the board's liaison with Alcoa during the
relicensing debate. "Four-10" refers to the number of feet below full pool
to which Alcoa has agreed to limit its drawdown at High Rock Lake during
the recreation season and the winter, respectively. The company can now
lower the level to 30 feet below full pool in either season.
But board Chairman Fred McClure, the board's liaison with Alcoa when the
company developed a Shoreline Management Plan several years ago, said it
was a mistake after 19 months of negotiations that resulted in the AIP to
walk away now. "Davidson County for the sake of its citizens should be at
the table," McClure said.
The board vote was 4-3, with McClure, Sam Watford and Larry Allen
favoring signing the agreement and Walser, Don Truell, Larry Potts and
Cindy Akins opposed.
Dean Vick, a spokesman for Concerned Property Owners of High Rock Lake,
said he was "surprised" and "pleased" by the vote. He said the
commissioners' decision should help Concerned Property Owners, which has
refused to sign the agreement, as it tries to convince the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission to place tougher requirements on Alcoa than are in
the AIP. "We needed Davidson County with us," Vick said.
A total of 22 of the 35 organizations that have participated in monthly
talks with Alcoa have signed the agreement. Montgomery County has signed,
but Stanly County did not and Rowan County has not yet decided. The city
of Salisbury, Duke Power, SaveHighRockLake.org and other groups have also
refused to sign.
Gene Ellis, licensing and property manager for Alcoa, acknowledged
disappointment with Davidson County's decision. "We will move forward with
the folks that have signed the agreement," Ellis said. "Hopefully we can
come up with a final agreement that does benefit the folks of Davidson
The AIP covers a wide range of issues, including water quality, downstream
flows, recreation, land management, environmental protection and community
relations. In addition to the new High Rock levels, the agreement adds
considerable flexibility to the Shoreline Management Plan that regulates
owners' ability to build piers, alter forested buffer and otherwise use
their lakefront property. Alcoa also agreed to sell or donate more than
6,600 acres for recreation, gamelands, conservation or park expansion in
Davidson, Rowan, Montgomery and Stanly counties. Davidson leaders are
interested in obtaining some of that land for hiking, cycling,
horse-riding, camping and other uses.
Both Vick and Ellis attended Tuesday night's county board meeting.
During the public address period at the beginning of the meeting, Vick
said water levels are the most important part of the AIP, affecting
whether High Rock Lake has healthy aquatic plant life, dissolved oxygen
levels, sedimentation, availability for recreation and economic return for
the region. "This new agreement does not provide that kind of security,
that kind of return for High Rock Lake," Vick said.
Ellis, in an interview later, said higher water levels would not cure all
of High Rock's problems.
When the commissioners took up the issue near the end of the meeting, they
invited Ellis to the podium to discuss the AIP. Ellis said the agreement
contains favorable changes for Davidson County.
"What we're trying to do is find the appropriate balance between
generating electricity, protecting the environment and recreation," Ellis
said. The AIP "is a rebalancing of what we have in existence right now."
Ellis received a tough cross-examination from Akins, who said it sounded
like all the power, in more ways than one, remained in Alcoa's hands. "I
honor all the meetings that y'all have, but I do wonder if it's doing any
good," Akins said.
Similarly, Potts questioned why Davidson County could not continue
participating in negotiating sessions if it didn't sign the agreement. "It
looks to me like it's just a way of limiting dissent," Potts said.
With Alcoa's 50-year license set to expire in April 2008, there is limited
time to continue negotiating issues, Ellis said.
Watford said he felt the AIP's benefits outweighed its weaknesses.
"I've always found that it's better to cooperate than it is to kick,"
Watford's motion to sign the agreement was seconded by Allen, who was
just sworn in Monday night to the seat vacated by former Commissioner Fred
Sink. Although Ellis said the 4-10 arrangement for lake levels will not
change as a relicensing settlement agreement is fleshed out, Allen, in an
interview, said he didn't think it would help the county to walk away.
But in a separate interview, Truell said he couldn't see signing the
agreement if you don't agree with everything in it but just want to stay
at the table. "If I agree to it, I can't come back a month later and say I
don't agree with it anymore," Truell said.
William Keesler can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 221, or at
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