The company owns four hydro-electric dams on the river and needs a water quality permit from the State of North Carolina before it can seek a 50-year federal licence to operate the dams.

Opinion is split as to whether Alcoa deserves the permit or not. Dean Naujoks, the Yadkin riverkeeper, says he is concerned over dissolved oxygen levels in the river, which determine water quality. Naujoks believes that more tests need to be done before Alcoa can take ownership of 401 certification. He says that fish in the river are contaminated.

Others, like Vanessa Mullinix, think Alcoa have been good stewards of the Yadkin, citing a pristine river and land protection initiatives.

Since Alcoa's last licence expired, the company has applied twice. A procedural error halted the first one and when a second application was made, environmentalists stepped in to contest it.

Should Alcoa be successful, it plans to spend $80 million upgrading the dams.

A ruling is expected by September.