Twenty years ago Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations was expecting about 10,000 people for its big 40th anniversary open house.
Ten years ago the aluminum company was expecting about 9,000 persons to attend the big 50th anniversary open house at the same place.
Fall had been the traditional time to observe “decades open houses” at the facility throughout the years.
Forecasting crowds is an inexact science, but there’s absolutely no doubt how many people will show up this fall for the 60th anniversary open house.
Zero. There isn’t going to be one, of course.
Alcoa shut down the smelter four years ago. One month ago the company announced it had agreed to sell land at Rockdale Operations to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).
Ironies abound. For much of the 1980s, LCRA was looked on by many in Milam County as the “bad guy” as an upstart named Texland tried to cobble together enough money and political clout to construct a giant power plant south of Rockdale, to be fueled by lignite coal from Shell Oil’s 25,000-acre lease.
LCRA fought that effort and prevailed. It probably was never actually realistic. Shell’s lease broke apart.
Now, unless something that’s not immediately apparent jumps out of the blue and stops the deal, LCRA is going to be Rockdale’s neighbor for the long term.
Exactly what this means is still unclear but a few things are obvious. It’s not going to mean 1,000 jobs, like Alcoa. The deal maker for the river authority is obviously access to a subterranean ocean of water under the land.
Does LCRA want to ship that water elsewhere? You bet it does. Will there be opposition to those efforts? Absolutely! Will the ongoing political struggle over water be cast as an urban vs. rural matter? Well, it is.
What will the future hold for Rockdale? LCRA isn’t saying much, just yet. But here’s a guess.
Lots of hearings, rhetoric, passion, disagreement and technical talk about hydrology and computer modeling.
Lots of water is going to get pumped. What’s still to be decided is how much.
One solid prediction. In 2022 there won’t be a 70-year open house for Alcoa, either.—M.B.