Carolina Journal News Reports
Electronic Recyclers International CEO John Shegerian announces his company will build a regional center at Alcoa’s Badin Business Park.
BADIN — The launch of a project bringing 200 “green” jobs and a $10 million investment to an abandoned industrial site in a rural North Carolina county typically would attract a host of state and local luminaries.
And indeed, at a May 23 ceremony in the Stanly County town of Badin announcing that California-based Electronic Recyclers International would open a regional recycling facility to process computers, televisions, cell phones, and other electronic waste, civic leaders took the podium, including U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-8th District; Sen. William Purcell, D-Scotland; Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly; Badin Mayor James Harrison; and Stanly County Commission Chairman Josh Morton.
But Gov. Bev Perdue was not present. Nor was her Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, a Stanly County native. Both were invited, and since Perdue took office in 2009, she and Crisco have become regular participants at major jobs announcements in North Carolina. Perdue recently completed a statewide "jobs tour," touting her economic development programs.
The top administration officials to attend were two commerce officials who did not participate in the formal program.
Perdue’s presence might have been awkward. ERI came to Badin as a result of recruitment efforts by Alcoa, the Pittsburgh-based aluminum maker. Perdue is leading the state’s efforts to take over Alcoa’s Yadkin Project, comprising four hydroelectric dams and reservoirs located along a 38-mile section of the Yadkin River. Had Perdue or other top administration officials attended the event, they may have faced uncomfortable questions about the state’s continuing battle against the industrial giant.
Neither the governor’s office nor the commerce department has issued a news release announcing the new jobs. Crisco is also a key player in the Perdue’s efforts to take over Alcoa’s facilities.
Perdue’s website lists 278 job announcements the governor has made since January 2009, with details on 91 projects. Sixty-four of the 91 projects listed investments less than the $10 million ERI project. Seventy-six of the 91 cited employment projections lower than the 200 jobs at the ERI project. In addition, press releases by the governor’s office have touted job announcements as minor as the creation of three full-time jobs at a nail salon in Benson.
Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson told Carolina Journal that the governor had a prior commitment. CJ also asked Pearson if the job announcement would affect the state’s efforts to take over Alcoa’s facilities. “The governor’s concerns about the Alcoa situation have not changed,” she said.
Commerce spokesman Tim Crowley told CJ that Crisco had a scheduling conflict. Crowley noted that two commerce officials did attend the event, though they didn’t speak. “I am not aware of any request for the department to make any remarks at the event, but we were invited to the event,” Crowley said.
Unlike many new companies, ERI is not receiving any special state or local incentives. Alcoa officials coordinated the announcement ceremony and Alcoa’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kevin Anton was the first to take the stage.
“Kevin Anton and Alcoa get all the credit for bringing ERI here,” company CEO John Shegerian told the 100-person crowd gathered for the event.
Alcoa first contacted ERI in December 2010. ERI has recycling centers in California, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Indiana, and Massachusetts, and had considered placing its southeastern regional center in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina before selecting the Badin site in May.
ERI says it eventually will hire up to 200 people to staff a regional recycling facility on the site of an aluminum smelting plant Alcoa operated for nearly 90 years. ERI will be the first tenant in the 123-acre site being developed by Alcoa and now referred to as the Badin Business Park.
ERI will begin operations in a temporary location in the business park in July before moving into a permanent, 165,000 square-foot facility in January 2012. ERI will invest $5 million at the site and Alcoa will spend an additional $5 million on building improvements.
Battle over the Yadkin
Alcoa operates the Yadkin Project under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The previous 50-year license was issued in 1958 and Alcoa started the relicensing process in 2002, but administrative and legal challenges from state officials have delayed renewal. Perdue and other takeover supporters, including the Stanly County Commission, believe the state would be a better steward of the water resources, the environment, and the electrical power.
Perdue’s strategy relies on convincing the federal government to deny a new license to Alcoa. The federal government would then assume control of the project, giving the state an opportunity to acquire the hydroelectric facilities.
Alcoa’s reservoirs, named High Rock, Tuckertown, Badin, and Falls, lie within 38,000 acres of real estate owned by Alcoa Power Generating Inc., a subsidiary of Pittsburgh-based Alcoa. Alcoa bought the land and constructed the hydroelectric dams to supply power to its aluminum smelting plant in Badin. Aluminum production started in 1917 and continued until 2002, when the company shut down most of the operation. All production stopped in 2007.
The hydro facilities continue to generate up to 210 megawatts of electricity that Alcoa sells to other power companies.
FERC likely would have issued a new license to Alcoa if Gov. Mike Easley had not intervened in April 2008. Citing concerns of some local governments in the region, Easley asked FERC to delay issuing a new license until those concerns were addressed. Perdue, Easley’s successor, has continued the fight.
In December, the state revoked a water quality permit for the Yadkin Project after it learned of emails between Alcoa engineers dating back several years questioning the effectiveness of a technology used to enhance water quality.
Federal regulators have put the relicensing on hold until the legal issues, including the controversy over the water quality permit, are settled.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.