October 24, 2008

The time is here to select the politicians who will help protect and shape the future of High Rock Lake.  SHRL is definitely NOT a political organization and we offer no advice beyond the boundaries of Davidson County.  However, over the last 6 years we have worked closely and repeatedly with the Davidson County Commissioners and can attest to the fact that a vote to "re-elect" anyone to the Board of Commissioners is a waste of your time, effort and support.  The only glimmer of hope is Cathy Dunn.  Cathy is a successful local business owner,  lifelong resident of Davidson County and has lived at High Rock lake for the last 32 years.  She spearheaded the efforts to incorporate Southmont to allow the local community to have some control over their future. Her involvement in this effort ignited her interest to direct her energies, strategies and dedication for the betterment of Davidson County.  Cathy sports a long record of "getting things done" and will be a HUGE asset in Davidson County and High Rock Lake's future.  Once again we encourage you to use your vote effectively by casting a single vote for Cathy Dunn for Davidson County Commissioner.  This strategy could again make Cathy the top "voters choice" among all of the candidates and send a loud message to the current Board of Commissioners.  The residents of Davidson County are tired of the ineffective leadership of the past and are ready to replace them with someone who has energy and vision for the future of our county.

The Lexington BBQ festival will be tomorrow and with any luck the rain in the weather forecast will be sparse.  Sunday looks like it might be a great opportunity to enjoy your annual "Autumn Leaves" boat ride around the lake.  Lake levels are perfect for getting under the bridges and High Rock Mountain bordering Flat Swamp Creek should be sporting its best colors over the next couple of weeks.

August 29, 2008

After struggling for months with exceptionally low river flows into High Rock Lake, Mother Nature gave APGI (and all of us) a break this week and sent a very welcome tropical storm named Fay to the Yadkin River Basin.  Fay dropped over 10 inches of rain in many areas above High Rock, filling both High Rock and Badin Lakes in a matter of a couple of days.  This badly needed rain may have rescued both lakes from a very bleak short term future but river flows are dropping again as quickly as they rose.  The torrential rains created significant flash flood runoff but did little to replenish the badly depleted ground water supplies throughout the river basin.  The Drought Management Team managing the project operations recognized the relief the rain provided but continues to be very cautious about retaining as much of the water as possible until the drought is really over.  Everyone on the DMT realizes that as soon as the surge subsides the river flows will likely return to the drastically low levels we have been experiencing until the ground water supplies upstream are truly replenished.  APGI provided its monthly update to FERC today acknowledging the drastic improvements in project conditions this week but wisely requested permission to continue with the reduced discharge requirements they have been operating under for the last month.  Enjoy the holiday weekend with plenty of water for recreation but be VERY cautious and alert while boating.  The flash flooding brought us plenty of water but it also brought LOTS of floating debris with it.  There are many trees, logs and other floating and submerged objects creating significant safety hazards.  Nothing spoils a fun day on the lake more than a damaging your boat and endangering the safety of you and your passengers.

July 20, 2008

As I think most people expected, the NC budget proposal for a study of whether North Carolina should create a "Yadkin Power Authority" to "produce, distribute and sell hydroelectric power for the benefit of the people of North Carolina" did not actually make it into the final NC Budget.  That has not ended the Stanley County quest to hold Alcoa Aluminum accountable for any environmental violations they may have committed as the project license holder in the past by having our legislators intervene in the relicensing of the Yadkin Project.  On July 18th the NC Senate ratified and presented to our Governor Senate Bill 1046 calling for a study of the impacts on the State of the potential issuance of a new fifty-year license by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") to Alcoa Power Generating, Inc.   It's interesting how the head of NC DENR (appointed by our Governor) was primarily interested in expanding Morrow Mountain State Park during the relicensing process.  Against the wishes of thousands of NC citizens, our state agency representatives agreed to minimal restrictions in the river basin as long as it got the State the opportunity to acquire those 2500 acres belonging to APGI adjacent to the state park.  Now, after the fact, our Governor and other legislators are rallying to protect the watershed DENR used as a sacrificial lamb to gain access to the land.  It is unfortunate our Legislators slept through the formal relicensing process and are now delaying the implementation of the limited improvements that those who did actively participate were able to obtain. Had they simply instructed our State Agency representatives to actually do their job and exert their statutory authority during the process all of these delays might have been avoided.   

Meanwhile we continue to be plagued by extreme drought conditions and are experiencing new record low river flows almost daily.  Without relief soon both High Rock and Badin may drop to levels making recreational boating hazardous.  To date the Drought Management Team has done a very credible job of making recommendations based on the proposed Low Inflow Protocol to protect our lakes and the river basin.  APGI is scheduled to update FERC on conditions here at the end of July.  Given the current conditions it would be reasonable to expect them to request additional discharge cutbacks to protect what little water reserves we have for as long as possible.

July 13, 2008

On Thursday, FERC posted their Notice Soliciting Comments, Motions To Intervene and Protests on APGI's variance request to temporarily reduce the discharges from the project in response to the continuing drought conditions.  As they often do in cases where time is of the essence, they gave APGI permission to implement the reductions and reserved the right to later modify the request based on Comments received. This should allow APGI to implement the cutbacks this week and should stabilize both High Rock and Badin for now.  Recent rains have improved river flow conditions slightly but as soon as the rain stops river flows again drop to dangerously low levels emphasizing the fact that ground water conditions upstream are still very bad.  To add insult to injury, Winston Salem has asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the discharges from W. Kerr Scott Dam to conserve water and stretch their drinking water supply as far as possible.  This would be a reasonable request in light of the present drought conditions but ONLY if they also implement water use restrictions as well.  At this time they have not implemented any conservation measures, they are simply further reducing the amount of water coming down the river. 

July 8, 2008

As we have stated several times in June, we find ourselves plagued by extreme drought conditions once again.  APGI and the Drought Management Team have been watching the conditions closely and stated they were committed to managing the Project as closely as possible to the terms included in the Relicensing Settlement Agreement submitted to FERC.  During the Drought Management Team conference call held on July 3rd, all participants agreed the trigger conditions for the proposed Low Inflow Protocol have been met and concluded it was time to implement discharge cutbacks until inflow conditions improve.  Since the terms of the RSA are only a proposal until FERC issues a permanent new license for the Project, APGI is required to request a variance to the terms of their present license before they can implement the reduced discharge rate.  Today they filed that request with FERC as well as requesting permission to balance the drawdowns of High Rock and Badin if further drawdowns became necessary.  Historically FERC has approved such requests pretty quickly since time is generally of the essence when they are made.  With any luck the levels at High Rock and Badin can be stabilized and further drawdowns can be minimized.  You can read the Variance Request and Minutes of the DMT conference call HERE.

June 30, 2008

Throughout the relicensing process no one seemed to have much luck getting the interest or support of our influential elected officials.  Stanley County recently submitted their comments on FERC's Final Environmental Impact Statement and it appears their political machine may slowly but surely be getting the attention of our legislators and persuading them to support a delay in issuing a new license, challenging the 50 year license term requested and even contemplating a possible takeover of the project by the State.  Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue recently became the fourth elected official from NC to submit a request to FERC asking to delay the process while the state completes additional "economic and environmental" studies.  She notes that the balance of private versus public benefit associated with the operation of the dams to the surrounding communities is now significantly different than it was when the dams were first licensed.  Many of Stanley County's grievances stem from loss of employment and potentially toxic waste associated with the now closed Alcoa Smelting Plant in Badin NC.  In order to disassociate the lucrative FERC license from the potential of costly pollution mitigation requirements during the relicensing of Project 297, about 8 years ago Alcoa Aluminum created APGI as a wholly owned subsidiary and transferred ownership of all the assets associated with power generation to the company.  To date APGI has been successful in separating those issues from the relicensing of Project 2197 by claiming the current licensee is not responsible for the sins of their parent company.  FERC recently replied to the request of Governor Easly to delay the issue of the new license for the project for one year.  In their response they note that all of the required steps for relicensing have been completed and the final Environmental Impact Statement containing the staffs analysis of the proposed projects and reasonable alternatives was issued on April 18, 2008.  They made no commitment to honor any part of his request by simply stating "No decision has been made concerning the scheduling of this project for Commission action.  We will let you know of any final Commission licensing decision."  They sent the exact same letter in response to a similar request from Senator Philip F. Berger and will likely send it to the other two requests they have recieved to delay the issue of the new license for one year.

It appears the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality may finally be stepping up to the plate and putting some new pressure on APGI concerning pollution generated by the Alcoa Aluminum Smelting Plant.  After reviewing the "Badin Lake Swim/Picnic Area and Badin Boat Access Sediment Assessment", DWQ cancelled their original 401 Water Quality Certification for the relicensing of the project and told APGI to file a new certification request. When APGI submitted their new request for a 401 Water Quality Certification DWQ responded with two new requirements:

Additional Information Requested:

1. APGI must provide a written plan for sampling the discharge from the Narrows (Badin Lake) dam for pollutants to include heavy metals and organic pollutants including volatile organic compounds, acid-extractable compounds, base-neutral compounds, and PCBs using a priority pollutant scan analyzed in accordance with 40 CFR Part 136. This analysis muat be conducted by a DWQ-eartified laboratory.

2. APGI shall provide a written plan for sampling lake sediment in a transect from the Alcoa Plant site to the discharge from the dam for those heavy metals and compounds including PCBs that are present in the sediment in the swimming area as reported in the Bndin Lake Swim/Picnic Area and Badin Boat Access Sediment Assessment, Stanly County, North Carolina dated January 2008 as prepared by Environmental Services, Inc. This analysis must be conducted by a DWQ-cortified laboratory.


Yesterday the Independent Tribune and today the Winston Salem Journal reported that our North Carolina legislators may be contemplating a state takeover of hydroelectric-power plants along the Yadkin River.  A Provision that would have the state study the issue was inserted into the 2008-09 budget bill that was passed earlier this month by the N.C. Senate. The provision calls for a study of whether North Carolina should create a "Yadkin Power Authority" to "produce, distribute and sell hydroelectric power for the benefit of the people of North Carolina."  Senate and House leaders are negotiating a final state budget plan, and it is unclear whether the hydroelectric proposal will be included in the final budget.

Alcoa contends their past stewardship of the Yadkin River resources has earned them the right to continue operating the project and maintaining complete control over the natural resources of the river basin.  They are however taking this threat seriously and have already commissioned a poll they say indicates the citizens of NC are opposed to a State takeover by a margin of 3 to 1.  

With any luck maybe this new found support by our NC Legislators can correct any slick corporate legal maneuvers of the past and eventually hold "Alcoa Inc." accountable for any questionable acts committed by ANY Alcoa companies associated with the project in the past.  Meanwhile, these ongoing issues are delaying the implementation of many of the positive changes included in the Relicensing Settlement Agreement including the Low Inflow Protocol designed to protect the river basin in times of extreme drought like those currently being experienced in the Yadkin River basin once again.

June 28, 2008

Welcome to what is historically the busiest week of the year at High Rock Lake.  The week of July 4th brings people out in masses to vacate, enjoy some great water based recreation and celebrate Independence Day.  There are special activities planned at numerous places around the lake and two great Fireworks Displays scheduled for Friday night.  Along with the increased boating activities you can also expect to find a corresponding increase in law enforcement presence on the water.  While they will be working to ensure your safety while on the water, at least one agency has stated they will be specifically watching for those operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol.  Combined with an increased law enforcement presence on the roads during the holiday period there is one rule that everyone should be following to ensure a safe and happy holiday celebration - HAVE A DESIGNATED DRIVER!!!  Nothing ruins a vacation quicker than a trip to the county jail or even worse, a trip to the hospital.  Don't forget the two most recent new regulations on the water; Life jackets must be worn at all times by those under 13 and "NO WAKE" within 100 feet of a stopped law enforcement watercraft.

This summer is again proving to be a challenge to maintain the water levels in High Rock Lake due to extreme drought conditions.  River flows have been steadily declining and are continuing to fall.  Yesterday's flow at Yadkin College marked a new ALL TIME LOW river flow for that date and it appears the trend may continue.  Inflow is currently significantly below the discharges required in Alcoa's license and High Rock has been steadily falling at a rate of about 6 inches per week.  Alcoa has been discharging no more than the minimum required for many weeks and unlike some times in the past they have done an excellent job of distributing the water shortages across the entire project and balancing the drawdowns across all of the lakes in the project.  They continue to meet regularly with the Drought Management Team and have stated they are committed to managing the project as closely as possible to the terms included in the Low Inflow Protocol that is included in the proposal for their new license.  The triggers for the LIP are based on inflow rolling averages and lake levels.  The lakes have to be below their Normal Minimum Elevation (NME) and inflow conditions below a specific historical average before discharges are curtailed under the LIP.  Since conditions are generally evaluated at the beginning of each month, timing can be critical in determining when cutbacks are implemented.  The NME for High Rock in the LIP is -4 Feet and we passed that magic point yesterday, just in time for the July evaluation.  With any luck the DMT will soon be able to reduce the required discharges ( with FERC approval ) and slow the rate at which High Rock and Badin are falling until we can get some badly needed rain. 

June 10, 2008

After almost six months of near normal rainfall the upper Yadkin River Basin is again plagued by severe drought conditions and dangerously low ground water supplies.  The NC Drought Monitor has not yet officially reclassified the area as "Exceptional" drought but it only takes a quick glance at the USGS River flows for the last 30 days to see that we are once again approaching the record low river flow conditions experienced in 2002.  Since APGI has been issued a temporary license to continue operations under the terms of their old license they are again caught in the situation of being required to discharge 1610 cfs from High Rock while the total inflows are more in the 1000 to 1200 cfs range.  Near record setting temperatures only compound the situation by driving up the demand (and price) for electricity generated by APGI.  Lake levels at High Rock and Badin have begun to drop slowly and unless cutbacks are implemented very soon the speed at which they drop will increase daily.  APGI is still operating under the terms of the Drought Contingency Plan created after the devastating events in 2002 and is required to hold monthly conference calls of the Drought Management Team.  The most recent meeting was scheduled for June 5th but APGI has not published the results of the meeting on their web site at this time.  Since APGI is obviously discharging more water from High Rock than is currently coming in, it appears there was no cutback agreed to during that meeting. The minutes of the meeting held on May 1 contained the following paragraph praising the effectiveness of properly managing the water resources in the river basin:

"The Pee Dee River Coalition (PDRC) reported that the downstream municipal and industrial water users in South Carolina are enjoying a high river and plenty of water. The PDRC stated that the Low Inflow Protocol, which was used as a 'go-by' during last summer's drought, has proven to be a success story."

Last year proved that timely implementation of the Low Inflow Protocol developed during the relicensing process will truly protect all portions of the river basin, not just those downstream.  Prompt implementation is the key to successfully managing the water resources throughout the entire river basin. With only 2.4 inches of rain in May and 0.05 inches so far in June we are very quickly approaching the point of no return without a significant increase in rainfall or a reduction of the 1610 cfs discharge requirement. Unfortunately the delays in issuing the new FERC license make the implementation of cutbacks more voluntary for APGI under the Drought Contingency Plan instead of being mandatory based on specific conditions as defined in the LIP.

May 6, 2008

The voters of Davidson County voiced their desire for change yesterday by casting more votes for political newcomer Cathy Dunn than any of the "Good Old Boys" running for reelection.  Our grateful thanks go to everyone who recognizes the need for change on the Board of Commissioners and representation from the southern part of the county.  Cathy has proven herself as a high energy go getter and will make a great addition to the Davidson County Board of Commissioners.  Positive change sometimes comes slowly and upgrading the Board won't happen overnight but can be accomplished more effectively one member at a time.  Remember this fall to again TRIPLE the effectiveness of your vote for change by voting only for Cathy for County Commissioner.

May 2, 2008

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Alcoa a new license to operate Project 2197.  Unfortunately it wasn't the license with numerous improvements hundreds of people dedicated years to create.  The license issued today is a one year temporary license allowing APGI to continue operating the project under the term of their old license.  Thanks to the last minute intervention of several politicians who were apparently oblivious to the 5 year process our state agencies were participating in, the new license may not be issued for another year.  The Commission still has a few weeks to determine if they will delay the process and respond to the correspondence they received from our elected officials.  The Temporary License will automatically renew annually on April 30th until a new license is issued so APGI probably doesn't care how long it takes to resolve the recently raised issues.  Until then they will continue to operate under the more lucrative terms of the old license and will not be required to begin any of the improvements or enhancements built into the new license terms.

If you are a registered Republican voter in Davidson County, Tuesday will be your chance to add someone to the Davidson County Board of Commissioners who REALLY does care about the future of southern Davidson County and High Rock Lake.  Casting a single vote for Cathy Dunn will provide a significant boost in our chances of adding someone to the Board who doesn't just care about how much tax revenues the residents of High Rock Lake can contribute for the board members to use for projects in other parts of the county.  It's time to add someone to the "Good Old Boys Club" who REALLY understands the issues facing businesses and residents in Davidson County and recognizes High Rock Lake for the HUGE asset it can be to the county in the future with the right investments in infrastructure services.

April 21, 2008

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (it's big and will take a while to download) has been released by the FERC for the relicensing of Project 2197.  Not surprisingly, it looks almost exactly like the Draft EIS and is a perfect example of how Big Business and Governmental Agencies take care of themselves first, then each other.  Your wishes as a citizen for our elected/appointed representatives do the RIGHT thing are fully considered and addressed only if want something that is good for them.  As you can see in these EXCERPTS from the document, the Commission notes that there were 2 other High Rock Lake operation scenarios considered, our 4 ft./6 ft. proposal and a 2 ft. year round proposal. In virtually every section, the alternatives were stated to provide better protection of our natural resources, wildlife, and recreational opportunities, increased recreational spending by visitors and increased property taxes benefiting the local counties.  Evidently none of those things were as important as a tiny increase in profits ($126,140) for APGI.  Even more frustrating is the fact almost everyone who signed the Relicensing Settlement Agreement forfeited these very real project enhancements to satisfy their desire to gain access to APGI land holdings.  They didn’t actually get the land donated for conservation, just the right to attempt to buy the land from APGI.   These lands were identified in the Final Environmental Impact Statement as being outside the scope of the FERC licensing process and “would not require Commission oversight or inclusion in any new license”.  The only real financial impact to APGI comes from the terms the Commission included to mitigate the threats to the Salisbury Water intakes and their sewage plant.  APGI tried in vain to sweep these issues under the rug during the relicensing process, but in the end, the Commission found them responsible for mitigating these flooding threats.  This issue will probably be challenged by APGI for years to come.

 In any event, the terms recommended by the Commission represent a significant improvement over the past.  Going into the relicensing process, we tried to set our goals realistically.  We knew from the beginning that REAL influential support would be a challenge to come by and APGI wasn’t going to voluntarily give up anything.  The long drawn out process would (and did) eventually lose the interest of all but the most dedicated.  The original goals for SaveHighRockLake.org posted on the web site in 2002 were pretty basic and simple.

  1. Longer Recreation Season

  2. Iron clad Drought Management Plan

  3. Drawdowns not to exceed 50% of the average depth of High Rock Lake (-8 feet)

  4. Relaxed pier building regulations.

 These goals were tweaked many times throughout the process to include greater detail and more closely align with the goals of other groups or agencies to strengthen the overall support for our original core goals.  In the end, the only thing we didn’t quite reach was the drawdown limit of 8 feet. With any luck, the 10 foot winter drawdown limit really will result in normal operations that rarely exceed a 9 foot drawdown as APGI has claimed.  Overall, we will walk away from this process and consider the efforts of everyone who joined and supported SaveHighRockLake.org a HUGE success and believe High Rock Lake has been "SAVED" to the extent we could realistically expect !!!!! 

 If you live in Davidson County and would really like to insure High Rock Lake gets better representation in the future, you might want to consider casting a SINGLE vote for Cathy Dunn for County Commissioner.  Two Davidson County Commissioners who are currently up for re-election were recently overheard taking credit for the improvements seen so far and negotiated for the future at High Rock Lake.  NOTHING could be farther from the truth!!!  We were at every single relicensing meeting from the beginning of the process and I can tell you neither of these politicians EVER attended a single relicensing or negotiations meetings.  Max Walser was the only Commissioner who participated in the process.  If you read the Relicensing Settlement Agreement it should be obvious that Davidson County got absolutely nothing out of it.  In reality, they supported many of us participating more actively, but did little to exercise their governmental/political clout.  This is very unfortunate since High Rock Lake is the single largest asset in Davidson County and the homeowners there represent the third largest tax base in the county.  Only the cities of Lexington and Thomasville contribute more to the county’s tax base.  If you would like to see some real support for southern Davidson County and High Rock Lake issues on the Davidson County Board of Commissioners in the future, consider voting for Cathy Dunn.  Cathy is a long time resident of High Rock Lake and has successfully operated the Biscuit King restaurants in Lexington for several decades.  She understands the issues county residents and businesses face on a daily basis and will tirelessly pursue many of the long overdue changes needed in Davidson County.  Check Cathy out at her WEB Site.  Even though you are allowed to vote for up to three candidates, casting a vote for only one candidate is much more effective at getting the right candidate elected.  Every additional vote you cast for another candidate can effectively cancel your vote for your preferred candidate.  Fred McClure proved that during the last election when he campaigned heavily in the southern part of the county and professed his future support of issues important to High Rock Lake enthusiasts and residents.  Two of us voted ONLY for Fred based on his promises and believe it or not he won his seat by exactly two votes.  Had we also voted for two additional candidates the best he could have hoped for was a tie.  Unfortunately that’s pretty much the last time we heard from good old Fred.  We won’t fall for the political BS and make the same mistake again.  

 April 1, 2008

Alcoa Relicensing Update:

Alcoa's license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate it's hydroelectric project on the Yadkin River expires this month. Hundreds of people have spent thousands of man hours negotiating the terms to be included in the new license that is scheduled to be issued this month. At this time, it appears that the new license may not be issued until several outstanding issues are resolved. Salisbury has submitted a significant challenge to the Commission concerning Alcoa's responsibilities in protecting the city's water and sewage facilities located along the Yadkin River. This is a matter that really should have been addressed years ago in the earlier stages of the relicensing process. Alcoa attempted to skirt the issue and minimize their responsibilities by providing a bare minimum of relevant information about the issues to the relicensing groups. That tactic might have worked for many of the issues being championed by other groups without significant financial resources and legal representation. Salisbury realized their issues were probably not going to be addressed properly in the process so they took it upon themselves to have the necessary studies performed by consultants and submitted these studies directly to the Commissions representatives responsible for the preparation of the new license. Their legal representatives insured that the Commission reviewed the information submitted and gave it the appropriate consideration before the commission released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project. FERC saw the potential merit in Salisbury's submissions and included remediation measures in DEIS which would cost Alcoa millions of dollars in the future. This issue is still being challenged by both sides and has delayed the Commissions release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Stanley County has recently issued several challenges to the new license including a very recent attempt to get the Governor of NC to challenge the right of a private company to control the natural resources of NC for corporate profit. Stanley County Commissioner Lindsay Dunevant said the thought of having one of the state's primary water sources owned by a multi-national corporation that could be bought or sold by a foreign nation is a "scary thought.". He persuaded the Davidson County Commissioners to pass a resolution similar to the one in Stanley County to show their support of the challenge. They even organized a protest rally in Raleigh yesterday to draw attention to the issue. Unfortunately, as Commissioner Walser said, "It's probably a day late and a bunch of dollars short". Where were these concerned elected officials four years ago when we needed them to throw around their political weight DURING the relicensing process? They always seem to be the last to know about and react to a problem, trying to fix it after the fact instead of being proactive and addressing it before it becomes a problem. Another prime example of how our politicians work would be the advertisements being run now by or Gov. Mike Easley about the need to conserve our water resources because of the extreme drought conditions in NC. They started showing up on TV after the conditions had improved significantly instead of when we REALLY had problems. Until all of the outstanding issues are settled, the Commission may withhold the new license and Alcoa will continue to operate under the more profitable terms of their existing license. This last minute HELP from our politicians will likely do little more than delay the issue of the new license and the implementation of the benefits everyone else worked so diligently to obtain. For now, the good news is APGI will most likely continue to operate the project as they have for the last year or so to minimize the chance of any negative publicity until they get their new license.