By Joe Cowan • Guest Columnist
Editor’s note: Jackson County Commissioner Joe Cowan made the following comments following a vote last week to stop legal proceedings against Duke Energy over its plan to take down the Dillsboro Dam, the centerpiece of the utility giant’s mitigation for a new license to use water from the Tuckasegee and its tributaries for the next 40 years.
Having observed this all my life, and the power company before Duke — Sylva-Dillsboro Electric Light Company, where my father worked for a few years — I’ve got some attachment to the dam and some interest in the relationships in the past and hopefully the type of relationship we may have in the future with Duke Energy.
I, too, observed the stakeholder meetings that have been referred to many, many times in the past seven years. Those stakeholder meetings, in my honest opinion, were a farce, nothing but a ruse to try and dupe good local people into believing that Duke Energy had the best interest of the people of Jackson County at heart rather than the monetary gain and interests of Duke Energy. That, to me, is a fact.
Greed. That’s the word I hear used frequently when large utility companies are referred to, greed. In my opinion, had it not been for greed, there would not have been seven years of bickering with Duke Energy.
Why did Duke want to take down the Dillsboro Dam? They haven’t said. They said many times in their proceedings that it was a linchpin of their proposal for a settlement, but why did they really want to take it down? It didn’t benefit Duke, didn’t do anything for 20 miles upriver. It’s not going to improve the environment of the river or what lives in it. Matter of fact, there is some evidence just the opposite of that.
Let’s get to why they want it down. Most of the time when an energy or utility corporation is asking to use someone’s water — and that’s what it is, asking to use the water of Jackson County for the next 40 years and make somewhere in the neighborhood of $16 million profit per year — you would think, just as a good neighbor policy, or if nothing else for the good will, the industry would have some desire to give back something to the people from whom this water use is being taken.
This is the thing that burns me up about the whole darn thing. There has been little to no evidence to this date that Duke Energy has been willing to give back even a token to this county for the use of their waterways for the next 40 years. And you multiply $16 million times 40 years, and see what you come up with. You’ll come up with a lot more than two or three hundred thousand dollars, which is the total that Duke offered, the token that Duke has offered.
Duke has had many opportunities to step up and do the right thing as a good neighbor would do. And in many cases others have done that, been good neighbors to Jackson County. Duke has not done that. They have no desire to do it. Thus seven years of bickering back and forth, back and forth.
Why do they want to take the dam down? They did not want to give the county anything, $250,000 or somewhere along there. That’s an insult for the use of the Tuckasegee River and its tributaries to the south for the next 40 years. An insult.
So they came up with this grand scheme: we will take down the dam for you. It reminds me a lot of the elderly lady crossing the street. A Boy Scout was out there helping her. They got to the other side and woman slaps the Boy Scout. A passerby saw her and said, “My God, what happened?” The lady said “I did not want to cross the dam street.”
Well, that’s what we’re dealing with here with Duke taking the dam down. We did not want the dam down, but Duke is going to do us a favor and take the dam down to show good faith to FERC. “Look what we’ve given Jackson County for the use of their water for the next 40 years.” Big deal, I hope Duke knows that.
.... It’s a bum deal. It’s a bum deal. Duke ought to be ashamed of themselves as a large corporation to attempt to pull such a stunt on the intelligent people of this county. I resent the hell out of it, and I think I’ve made that clear. That’s been my involvement in it, and as far as I’m concerned I hope it’s not over yet. We’ve still got 30 days to appeal this thing.