Charles City County residents oppose Dominion's Chickahominy alternative route

JAMES CITY — Peninsula residents weren't the only people interested in last Friday's public hearing held by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A large portion of the audience was also Charles City County residents.

The Corps is in the process of deciding whether to approve Dominion Virginia Power's request to build overhead transmission lines across the James River from its Surry Power Station to a switching station in Skiffes Creek.

While evaluating alternatives, the Corps decided in its preliminary conclusions the only other feasible alternative that met the power needs of the Peninsula is connecting overhead transmission lines from a sub-station in Charles City County across the Chickahominy River to Skiffes Creek.

More than 325 people attended the meeting at Lafayette High School, and more than 140 speakers addressed the Corps. Several dozen speakers were from Charles City County.

Most Charles City residents opposed the second alternative the Corps found feasible, which would be a much longer route.

The transmission lines would have to travel 38 miles. With only 13 miles already cleared, Dominion would still need to address the remaining 25 miles of right-of-way.

The Chickahominy-Skiffes Creek route would also be costlier, at $265 million. The cost of the Surry-Skiffes Creek route, Dominion's preferred alternative, is projected to cost about $180 million.

"The SCC (Virginia State Corporation Commission) found the Chickahominy route would have a higher cost and greater impact," said Julie Ledbetter, who identified herself as a Charles City County resident. "That determination should be the end of this body's consideration of the Chickahominy alternative," she said.

Ledbetter then urged the Corps to approve the James River route.

"The negative impacts on Carters Grove, and the (Capt. John Smith National Historic Water Trail) while unfortunate, are relatively minor, and must bow to the interest of clean air and national security."

Zach Trogdon, county administrator for Charles City County, said the Chickahominy route would pose unique challenges for his locality.

"Our position has been that both routes have their drawbacks. The county has taken a position that the one going through the county here would endanger a lot of historic resources as well as environmental and natural resources," Trogdon said to the Gazette. "We don't think this is a good alternative, given its proximity to some residential properties."

Dominion has said it has to build the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line to avoid rolling blackouts to more than 600,000 people who live and work on the Peninsula.

Environmental groups have argued that the project would threaten the historic viewshed and potentially undiscovered sites of significance.

At the hearing Friday night at Lafayette High School Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said she was pleased with support expressed for the preferred Surry-Skiffes Creek alternative.

"We think their support is reflective of public opinion who understand that the risks are real, the timeline is real, and our proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek project is the real solution," Harris said.

Bogues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346.

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