Dominion Virginia Power, the Army Corps of Engineers and the historic preservation agencies of the state and federal government have signed off on a key agreement that needed to be addressed before the Corps could decide, one way or the other, on the utility's plan to build a controversial transmission like across the James River.
That agreement sets out a $91 million plan to mitigate the impact of the proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek power lines across the James River on historic sites and the environment.
"The signed agreement will now allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with rendering a permitting decision," Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said.
Dominion officials now say they believe the Peninsula can get through this summer without the rolling blackouts it had warned could happen if it could not complete the line by this spring, when it shut down its two coal-fired generating units at Yorktown, which it did last month. Opponents of the project had dismissed Dominion's warnings that there could be as many as 80 days a year in which rolling blackouts were possible as simply a scare tactic.
“We are doing everything in our power now, so that on a temporary basis, until the Skiffes line is built, we will be able to reduce the possibility of rolling blackouts,” Anderson said.
Federal air pollution limits bar Dominion from running the Yorktown oil unit more than 29 days a year, while the 20 to 24-hour time required to start it up means the company and the operator of the 13-state electric grid Virginia plugs into need to look ahead several days before ordering it online. Last year, that happened only six times.
Anderson said Dominion plans to use the Yorktown oil-fired unit in the limited way that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows.
“We expect we will be asked to run it again this summer,” she said “While this unit is not a long-term solution, it will help reduce the reliability risks on a temporary basis until the Skiffes line is built.”
The new agreement outlines ways to address the impact of the line, if it is built, on historic sites and the environment. It lays out efforts 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.
The agreement calls on Dominion to purchase land and secure open space or historic preservation easements on land into order protect historic sites and landscapes, and to spend $85 million on mitigation efforts over the next several years.
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 agreement was signed by the Corps, Dominion, the state Department of Historic Preservation and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
“Although the (agreement) was executed by the government agencies involved, not a single public interest organization agreed to sign,” said Sharee Williamson, associate general counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“That is because it is not in the public interest for Dominion to pay money to compensate for damaging one of the most historically significant landscapes in America when there are options that could be pursued that would avoid harming the James River at Jamestown,” she said.
“It would be disgraceful if this project that would damage so many of the Commonwealth’s historic resources is permitted,” Williamson said, arguing Dominion could seek permission to use the coal-fired units at Yorktown, especially since the Trump Administration is re-evaluating the EPA rules capping mercury and toxic gases emissions might be charged. The EPA had given Dominion special permission to operate the units even though they exceeded the caps, which expired last month.
The Save the James Alliance, while invited to sign, declined, said co-founder Margaret Nelson Fowler.
“We continue to believe that there are viable alternatives that the Corps has failed to acknowledge,” she said. “Given that, our efforts are moving forward on many fronts to ensure that this project is properly reviewed by all parties.”
In addition to historic preservation concerns, the Corps must also consider impact on wildlife and wetlands in any decision about the power line. The project is also subject to Virginia Marine Resources Commission review, and James City County will eventually consider the utility’s request to built a new substation.
The agreement says specific projects must be approved by the Corps and that interested parties have a right to comment.
Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.
Skiffes Creek transmission line agreement
Under the agreement to address the impact of its proposed Surry to James City County transmission line on historic sites and the environment, Dominion would:
• Be responsible for projects to enhance landscape and river views as well as protect the shoreline at Carter's Grove and the Colonial Parkway, as well as interpretative signs;
• Pay for repairs or replace the seawall at the Historic Jamestowne site, as well as breakwaters, sills and revetments to protect the island;
• Pay for restoration of Back Creek at Historic Jamestowne;
• Provide for archeological investigations and projects to enhance visitors' experiences at Historic Jamestowne;
• Fund work to preservation and enhance the Werowocomoco settlement site;
• Pay for enhancing 1,100 acres of marsh at Hog Island;
• Pay for acquiring 400 acres of upland and marsh at Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area;
• Acquire land and pay for site interpretation facilities for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail;
• Acquire Uttamusack, a Pamunkey spiritual center during the time of Powhatan, and donate it to the Pamunkey Tribe, as well as donating $900,000 for maintenace of the site and an access road;
• Pay for archeological investigations around the Memorial Church at Historic Jamestowne;
• Pay for erosion and sediment control projects and planted buffer zones along the James River for several miles above and below the transmision line crossing;
• Pay for open space easements on land associated with the Battle of Yorktown and Fort Crafford
• Donate $1.5 million to the Chickahominey Tribe of Virginia for historic preservation work, historic research and expansion of the Tribal Cultural Center;
• Give $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; and
• Use any feasible paint or coatings on the transmission line towers to reduce visibility above and beyond reductions achieved by weatherized galvanized steel coatings;