A fresh thought process on power lines project

Special to the Gazette

The story of our human race is an incredible one.

Consider the evolution of the human condition over the last 5,000 years. Beginning with the dawn of the earliest Egyptian, Sumerian, and Mesopotamian civilizations, onward to Classical Greece and Imperial Rome, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment and the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, the bloody revolutions of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution, and finally into the utterly transformative 20th century that ushered in our modern Information Age.

The changes in our society that have occurred in this millennium's short 17 years are astonishing, and when compared to the changes that have occurred elsewhere in the animal kingdom, the human story really is nothing short of miraculous.

But while our history is rife with examples of innovation, ingenuity, and victories of the human spirit on so many levels, our remarkable species did not make such immense progress without making mistakes along the way.

Some of history's mistakes are gargantuan, others not so big—or at least not so consequential. To avoid seeming overly-political, I'll leave examples of the former category to historians; in the latter category, my favorite gray 'Members Only' jacket and my feathered hairdo circa 1984, would be perfect examples.

When I look at old school photos featuring either of those abominations, I can't help but ask myself "What on Earth was I thinking?" Or "Why didn't anyone compassionately try and redirect me?" The answer becomes evident as I scan the rest of the class photo and realize that everyone else's fashion sense was equally atrocious, and nobody got the hairstyle right.

Of course, those mistakes are only evident in retrospect. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. There was nobody in 1984 speaking out about the perils of legwarmers, mullets, or acid-washed jean jackets. Had there been a critical mass of people objecting to those fashion statements, it is possible that people might have seen the error of their ways sooner.

All of which begs an interesting question: What if we applied the wisdom of hindsight to tough decisions that we are grappling with today? In other words, if we could listen to our future selves today, could we avoid making certain mistakes?

There may be just such an opportunity before us.

The construction of power lines across the James River would be a mistake of historic proportions, and while there are several sensible voices acting as our "posterity" or "hindsight" speaking out against it, I'm not sure we are listening closely enough to them.

Some of the towers will soar as high as 295 feet, and all 17 will be within view of Historic Jamestown, Carter's Grove Plantation, and the John Smith Water Trail. The National Park Service, Association for Virginia Antiquities, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, The National Historic Register, The National Trust, The Audubon Society, and even UNESCO are all speaking on behalf of our progeny when they have, with one united voice, expressed their unilateral disapproval of destroying a historic and wild area that has remained largely unchanged since the English settlers arrived in 1607.

Dominion argues that the landscape is not pristine, and therefore not worth protecting, but opponents have been quick to point out the vast difference between the smattering of lushly landscaped and elegant riverfront homes, and the occasional roller coaster peeping over the densely wooded shoreline, and the scope of the 17 towers across 2 miles of the James River. It quickly becomes an emotionally charged issue, and like most quandaries, the best outcome is generally achieved by identifying the facts, then working toward a compromise that gives both sides a little of what they want.

Fact: Coastal Virginia, also known as Hampton Roads, is pushing 2 million people, with continued growth expected over the next 20 years.

Fact: Yorktown's coal burning plant needs to be shuttered in April as our country chooses to move toward cleaner energy sources.

Fact: Dominion Power has annual revenues of $13.1 billion dollars (2013) and serves 6 million customers. A $500 million dollar project to submerge the lines would amount to just under 35 cents per customer per month if amortized over the typical 20 year period.

Fact: Underwater power lines that are considerably longer than the width of the James River at Skiffe's Creek have existed for years near historic and scenic areas around the globe, and in countries with far fewer technological resources than the U.S.

Fact: Carter's Grove Plantation is a National Historic Site, Jamestown Island is part of a National Park and The John Smith Water Trail is the first waterway in the U.S. designated a historic water trail. The ferry system has been preserved to avoid a bridge crossing that would mar the historic view.

It would be unfair of me, or anyone, to say that no more power should be supplied to Southeastern Virginia or that we don't — or won't — need it. It would also be unfair to say that there are no better alternatives than an above ground power crossing to provide needed energy to this area while preserving this national gem.

There are many examples of Dominion Power's support of worthy community projects. They have proved that they can be a good neighbor.

I have no interest in being part of the generation that goes down in history as the one that encouraged Dominion Power to permanently scar this cradle of American democracy. I respectfully ask Dominion Power to be the good stewards of the environment that I know they can be and have been. Together, let us preserve a part of the world that means so much to so many and provide the energy for generations to come.

Let's do this right. Let's do something that will make history, and our children, proud. Let's use "hindsight" to create the best possible outcome. Our future will thank us.

Dafashy lives in James City County.

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