⇒ See main story, “Give back the Yadkin, dammit“
Fueled by Andrew Mellon’s fortune, Alcoa came to dominate the aluminum industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, following the invention in 1885 of the electrolytic process that made aluminum smelting highly profitable. Alcoa bought bauxite mines across the South, controlling the basic material from which aluminum was extracted. It also bought river rights where it could, using hydropower to produce electricitythe other key ingredient in the smelting processmore cheaply than anyone else.
That’s how Alcoa set up shop on the Yadkin River:
1915: When World War I breaks out in Europe, Alcoa purchases an unfinished smelting plant in Stanly County from a French rival, L’Aluminum Francaise.
1917: The Badin smelter and the town of Badin, built by Alcoa, go into operation. Alcoa already has three hydropower plants up and running on the Yadkin, supplying the smelter with power.
1920: Congress enacts the Federal Power Act, giving Washington control over navigable rivers. Alcoa is licensed under the FPA to run the Yadkin Project.
1958: Alcoa wins relicensing for the maximum term of 50 years, with North Carolina’s support. The state cites the company’s plan to double capacity at the Badin smelter and add a four hydroelectric plant on the Yadkin, assuring 900 jobs.
2002: Alcoa ends regular aluminum production in Badin and lays off 377 workers.
2006: Alcoa’s subsidiary, APGI, applies to extend its license for the hydroelectric plants through 2058.
2007: Alcoa mothballs (“curtails”) the Badin smelter, probably for good.
2008: Stanly County challenges Alcoa’s application to the state for a water quality permit under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.
2009: North Carolina challenges APGI’s license renewal, saying it’s been a bad steward of the Yadkin. With the 401 permit issue still pending, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission defers decision on the license; APGI continues to operate the Yadkin Project under a temporary license.