Dominion James River power line wins preliminary Corps of Engineers nod

Dominion Energy Virginia was awarded a conditional permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowing it to build a high-voltage transmission line across the James River to Skiffes Creek in James City County.

But before the Corps issues a final permit, it wants Dominion to win approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the water quality regulators of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said Mark Haviland, chief of public affairs at the Corps’ Norfolk District office.

The Corps is not requiring any changes to the route of the $180 million overhead line and associated equipment or to the mitigation plan proposed to address its impact on nearby historic sites, Haviland said.

Although not a condition for the permit, Dominion also needs the James City Board of Supervisors’ approval for a special-use permit so that it can build a switching station for the high voltage line near Skiffes Creek.

Dominion must either formally accept the proffer or tell the Corps if it has any objections, he added.

If the utility accepts the proffer and obtains the two required approvals, the Corps would then sign a permit formally allowing the project to proceed.

The utility has said it needs the line to ensure reliable electric supply on the Peninsula, saying the area is at risk of rolling blackouts because Dominion can’t deliver enough power to meet peak demand if there are faults on the lines or with the equipment now in place.

Critics have said the line will desecrate historic sites and vistas on the James River. They’ve said there are viable alternatives, although neither the Corps of Engineers nor the State Corporation Commission agree. Critics also charge Dominion’s warnings about blackouts are scare tactics, noting the company had said the Peninsula could face blackouts on as many as 80 days a year, while more recently, the company has said it does not expect to see any blackouts this summer.

“This is a very positive step in the right direction, but we remain focused on completing the work necessary to get all final permits and ensure 600,000 people who live and work on the Peninsula have clean, reliable energy,” said Bob Blue, chief executive of Dominion Energy’s power delivery group.

Sharee Williamson, associate general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which opposes the project, said she hadn’t seen the Corps’ proffer and could not comment.

“It’s been a long process of working with Dominion to help ensure the energy needs of James City County can be met,” said Kevin Onizuk, chairman of the JCC Board of Supervisors. “The county and Dominion did not always agree on the best solutions, and we worked with the Corp of Engineers to give county input.

“There were certainly other options that residents supported, but given the permit is moving forward, it is up to our county to hear the request for the switching station in our July meeting,” he said.

“We look forward to working with them on the switching station and mitigation incentives ... to help with tourism and the negative impacts the power lines might have.”

Mitigation plans

The high-voltage line would cross the James River from a spot just to the south of the Hog Island Wildlife Management Area in Surry County to a point near the old BASF plant in James City County. It would be carried across the river on 17 towers, some as high as 295 feet.

The Corps of Engineers, Dominion and the historic preservation agencies of the state and federal government have accepted a $91 million plan that aims to reduce the impact of the project on historic sites.

It requires Dominion to spend $85 million over the next several years to protect shorelines, improve water quality and enhance landscapes and views around Jamestown, the Colonial Parkway and Carter’s Grove in James City County, Surry County’s Hog Island, the Fort Crafford earthworks at Mulberry Island on Fort Eustis, the Yorktown battlefield and the site of the Native American settlement at Werowocomoco in Gloucester County.

That spending would include buying land or paying for open space easements to protect historic sites and landscapes.

In addition, the agreement calls on Dominion to donate $1.5 million to the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia for historic preservation work, historic research and expansion of the Tribal Cultural Center, as well as $4.5 million to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for expansion of its cultural center, setting up a Tribal Historic Preservation Office and expanding its shad hatchery.

The spending to reduce the impact of the line will bring the latest estimated cost of the project to $270 million, Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said.

Building the line will take 18 to 20 months, but construction can’t start until several conditions in the $91 million mitigation plan are met. Dominion can’t connect the line itself to the rest of its Peninsula network until it builds a switching station in James City County, and it can’t do that unless county supervisors approve.

Dominion wanted to have the new line in place before it shut down its Yorktown 1 and Yorktown 2 coal-fired generating units, which it did in April.

Earlier this year, Dominion disclosed an emergency plan for cutting power, without notice, to 150,000 Peninsula customers if there are faults in two of the dozens of components on its high-voltage transmission network on the Peninsula, such as substation transformers, breakers and sections of wire between breakers. That kind of two-component fault has happened twice in the past decade. A single fault could trigger rolling blackouts under that plan. The utility has seen six such single-component failures in the area during the past decade.

Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.

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