Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Parsing the N.C. Water Rights Committee

A longtime Observer reader recently asked me what I knew about the N.C. Water Rights Committee, which represents the views of citizens who oppose the request of Alcoa Power Generating Inc. for a renewal of its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate hydroelectric dams on the Yadkin River. Alcoa once employed a large workforce at its Badin aluminum smelter, but has a small workforce now. It wants to renew its license to generate power and keep selling it on the open market. Opponents regard it as an unregulated utility -- or at least not regulated like other utility companies in North Carolina -- and they hope to "recapture" the project license, as allowed but never exercised under federal law.

The reader may have been prompted by a recent news report that found the N.C. Water Rights Committee to be mysterious and tight-lipped. The committee apparently didn't want to answer questions about its operation, which, as anyone in public life can tell you, is a really dumb stance to take. In this age of transparency, the best course for institutions operating in the public eye is to be as forthcoming as possible. Anything less creates a lot of suspicion.

A week ago I began asking a few questions, and finally caught up yesterday with two members of the N.C. Water Rights Committee who were willing to talk about the group, which has a Web site at www.ncwaterrights.org. They were member Roger Dick, CEO of Uwharrie Capital, a holding company for several banks, and treasurer Chris Bramlett, a retired chemistry professor and businessman. They said N.C. Water Rights is an organization originally chartered by Bruce Thompson, a Raleigh lawyer who represents Stanly County. (Thompson said via e-mail Wednesday, “Our firm prepared the incorporation paperwork and I signed as the incorporator. After that, they ran their own organization and ultimately engaged Steve Levitas.) Dick and his companies are the primary financial supporters of the N.C. Water Rights Committee.

Dick said the group had more than 200 members and described them as "just a rag-tag group of home-spun, floppy-hat-wearing" citizens who are interested in environmental and economic issues along the river. Some of them contribute money to the committee, but Dick estimates he and his companies have provided 75 percent or more of the roughly $75,000 the N.C. Water Rights Committee has spent to communicate with the public over the last couple of years. The committee's primary purpose, he said, is education. He and Bramlett said that Stanly County, which has also opposed Alcoa Power Generating Inc.'s pursuit of another FERC license, is not a contributor to N.C. Water Rights Committee.

MNI Marketing, a Raleigh public relations firm, maintains the Web site for the N.C. Water Rights Committee at www.ncwaterrights.org. The Web site has a page where people can sign up to join the committee. The Web site says N.C. Water Rights Committee is a coalition of hundreds of people, but the committee has declined to release a list of his members or its income and expenditures on privacy grounds. The committee has a page where anyone can make contributions to the group, but donations are not tax deductible.

Bramlett said that when the group first began looking at this issue, it proposed some modest suggestions to Alcoa. "We wanted to partner in some way with the company" to improve economic development in the area. "We really didn't know if we owned the water or not," he added.

The committee's officers are President Nancy McFarlane, Raleigh City Council member, Secretary Nadine B. Bowers of New London, a retired investment consultant, and Treasurer Christopher L. (Chris) Bramlett of Albemarle, retired University of Alabama chemistry professor and former owner of Christopher's Jewelers in Concord. Its registered lobbyist is Steve Levitas, an attorney with Kilpatrick Stockton in Raleigh and former N.C. Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The committee's immediate past president is Keith Crisco, an Asheboro businessman now serving as N.C. Secretary of Commerce.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like this is basically a front group for Roger Dick. He seems to be the one who is pulling the strings for the Water Rights Committee AND the Stanly County government. I'm sure he must have some type of financial incentive. Wonder how he will benefit from all of this?

eda said...
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Anonymous said...

Helloooooooooooo Jack!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You finally did some reporting instead of shilling for the takeover proponents.
Anybody who followed this situation at all knew that Roger Dick was a principal in this debacle.
Now maybe you should examine the economics of the takeover to decide if the project is economically sustainable.
You claim you were a reporter once-GET BUSY!!!!!

Lorraine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen said...

Interestingly enough, the only people with financial incentives in this deal are Alcoa and Alcoans. Its a shame and very shortsighted that someone would assume that a banker is only interested in personal financial gain, because he is a banker. The heart of this issue is basic economic literacy for an entire region; a region that was controlled for over a hundred years by textile mill magnates who fostered the idea that individuals couldn't make decisions, or even worse were not smart enough to do so. A key component to Uwharrie Capital's philosophy involves empowering people. Alcoa makes millions of dollars a year from the hydroelectric dams it operates using a public resource. It once provided over 900 jobs to the region. Now it only provides a handful. This state and this country need more altruistic business men and women like Roger Dick!

Anonymous said...

Stephen's post tries to impugn the views of those opposed to the take over of private property by alleging the only people in Stanly County who oppose this brazen attempt to steal shareholders' assets work for ALCOA. He then engages in hero worship of one of the perpetrators of this cockamamie idea.
The facts are that:
The unemployment rate of Stanly County is 12.5%.
Legacy employers other than ALCOA have left Stanly County or closed their doors. Among these are Collins and Aikman, Wiscassett Mills, American and Efird Mills, Aeroquip among others. No one is trying to steal their assets.
The idea that this asset theftof the dams is a "recovery" as if they owned the dams and the land uner the lakes is a lie.
County leaders like Dick Dennis and Dunevant have spent $1 million dollars with PR firms, lobbyists and lawyers to tell this lie better to pull the wool over the eyes of Stanly County residents.
The ALCOA shareholders put down their cash to buy and pay foor the dams and the land beneath the lakes. No hillbillies in Stanly Conty have any right to those asets UNLESS they buy them on the open market.

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