Dominion power project gets approval, challenged in court

Less than 24 hours after receiving the county’s approval to build a switching station for its Surry-Skiffes Creek power project, Dominion Power was named in a lawsuit trying to stop the project.

On Wednesday, the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers and Secretary of the Army, seeking an injunction to block the permit issued to Dominion for the Skiffes transmission line project.

The National Parks Conservation Association said the Army Corps of Engineers did not follow requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the federal Clean Water Act in approving construction of the line earlier this month.

“It would be impossible to select a more historically and culturally significant location to construct and operate this project. The intrusive transmission line and the massive steel lattice towers supporting the transmission line will cut through or very near dozens of crucially important national park units, historic properties and battlefields in the center of Virginia’s Historic Triangle,” said the National Parks Conservation Association in the lawsuit.

Dominion’s proposal to build a transmission line across the James River to connect the Peninsula to a higher voltage network has face blowback from conservation groups that feel it is too close to national historic landmarks such as Carter's Grove, the Colonial Parkway and the Colonial National Historical Park which includes Historic Jamestowne, in addition to crossing the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

The Army Corps of Engineers said that due to pending litigation, all comments about the project would come from the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice declined to comment when contacted by The Virginia Gazette.

“This urgently needed energy project has been thoroughly studied and approved over the past five years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the Virginia Supreme Court and other agencies. It is clearly needed to maintain electric reliability for more than 600,000 people and was carefully sited to ensure it would not be visible from the Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown Battlefield,” said Dominion in a statement provided by spokeswoman Bonita Harris. “This has been one of the most heavily scrutinized infrastructure projects in the history of Virginia and any further delay in its construction will only put at greater risk our ability to keep the lights on in the Peninsula.”

Dominion has said building the switching station will take 18 to 20 months.

The lawsuit was filed just hours after James City County supervisors approved Dominion’s request in a 3-2 vote to build the switching station on a 67-acre property along Pocahontas Trail.

Supervisors react

Tuesday evening, supervisors faced a crowd of close to 200 people prior to their vote. About 30 people signed up to speak during the public comment period, and discussion lasted more than two hours.

Chairman Kevin Onizuk and supervisors Sue Sadler and Michael Hipple voted in favor of Dominion’s proposal — supervisors can only control the land use of the property and were not voting on the project as a whole.

The supervisors who voted in favor said they think the switching station will be an asset to the Grove community.

“I don’t see where this station is going to be a blight on the community,” Hipple said. “The neighbors in the area I’ve talked to don’t have a problem with it.”

“Dominion has owned the property for 40 years, and I don’t see a reason why this can’t take place,” Sadler said.

Dominion has said the station is needed to connect transmission lines to the rest of its grid to avoid rolling blackouts on the Peninsula.

“I do believe there is a need and there’s a need that is urgent, and (if) we’re not able to provide electricity, it can and will have a catastrophic economic impact,” Onizuk said.

A dissenting view

Supervisors Ruth Larson and John McGlennon voted to deny the project.

Even though Larson opposed the request, she said she wants revenue from the switching station to be used to improve the Grove community. Dominion said the switching station will add $400,000 of annual revenue to the county.

During the two hours of public comment, residents who opposed the project cited safety concerns and the proximity of the switching station to James River Elementary School, which would be less than 3 miles from the property.

“To me, the overriding concerns are that this is an area where there’s too much opportunity for bad things to happen ... we’re asking the adjoining community to take on things that most areas in the county don’t want in their backyard,” said McGlennon, who represents Grove.

The supervisors decision went against the county planning commission’s request, which was submitted two years ago. In August 2015, the commission voted 4-2 not to recommend Dominion’s rezoning and special-use permit request.

“I don’t believe, based on our comprehensive plan and the impact to the neighborhood, that this is a good fit,” Larson said.

Jefferson can be reached by phone at 757-790-9313.

 

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