Posted on Sun, May. 16, 2004

Alcoa, park reach preservation deal

10,000 undeveloped acres would be protected

Associated Press

Alcoa last week agreed to preserve 10,000 acres of undeveloped mountain land next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, clearing the way for the company to renew its license to operate four hydroelectric dams on the Little Tennessee River.

The aluminum manufacturer signed an agreement Monday with regulators and more than 20 environmental groups after seven years of negotiations. The deal needs congressional approval, which is expected by the end of the year.

Alcoa's license to operate four hydroelectric dams on the Little Tennessee River in Tennessee and North Carolina expires next year. The Federal Electric Regulatory Commission had said it wouldn't renew the licenses without the preservation deal.

The Little Tennessee watershed, which Alcoa controls, is between the Great Smokies park, the Cherokee National Forest and two wilderness areas on the Tennessee-N.C. line.

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa agreed to give the Nature Conservancy a permanent non-development easement on 5,700 acres between the park and the national forest, plus an option to buy the property to resell to the Smokies park or Cherokee forest.

The Nature Conservancy also would receive a protection easement on an additional 4,000 acres that would last as long as the dams' expected 40-year licenses.

Alcoa also would give the Smokies park 186 acres bordering the park in exchange for 100 acres of land within the park that has been flooded by Alcoa's dams.

The company also agreed to $12 million in commitments to enhance river quality and recreation facilities.