Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line towers complete

Staff writer

Dominion Energy has finished construction of the towers needed as part of the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line — completing the most visible, and controversial, part of a multi-million-dollar project to provide electrical power for the Peninsula.

Construction of the 17 towers needed to carry the 500-kilovolt transmission line from James City County to Surry County began late last summer, and several more towers were added to the James River every month until the project was completed in January. The $390 million project is on time to be completed by summer 2019, Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton said in an email.

“We are currently on schedule with the project. Dominion Energy crews and contractors have worked diligently, swiftly and safely to build this critical transmission line to keep lights on for more than 600,000 people living on the Peninsula,” Slayton said.

Dominion is also building a switching station near Skiffes Creek in James City County, a project Slayton said was “98 percent” complete. An update to the 115-kilovolt and 230-kilovolt lines are also on the cusp of completion.

The energy company has called the Surry-Skiffes Creek project critical to ensure reliable electricity service on the Peninsula. Critics of the project have called it a threat to the historical and environmental resources of the James River, such as Historic Jamestowne. Dominion, the Army Corps of Engineers and state and federal preservation organizations agreed to a $90 million mitigation plan to offset the project’s effects on the area.

The mitigation funds included $25 million for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to improve the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, $15.6 million for the Virginia Environmental Endowment to make water quality improvements in the construction area, and $12.5 million for land conservation and open-space easement projects by the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, among other projects.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe received $4.5 million for projects, including creation of a historic preservation office. The Chickahominy Indian Tribe received $1.5 million to expand and operate its cultural center, among other projects.

The Corps issued a permit in July 2017 that allowed Dominion to build the transmission line. Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation challenged that decision in one suit, and the National Parks Conservation Association did the same in a separate suit. Both suits charged that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

A federal judge ruled against the groups in late May 2018, and the groups in turn appealed the ruling.

In December, oral arguments in the case were presented to a three-judge panel, said Andy Grabel, National Trust for Historic Preservation spokesman, in an email. Grabel anticipated a final decision in early July 2019.

The National Parks Conservation Association is also trying to stop the project in another court filing, charging Dominion didn’t adequately consider the project’s effects on wildlife.

That challenge was heard in December. A decision is expected in the spring or early summer, National Parks Conservation Association spokeswoman Angela Gonzales said in an email.

“We appreciate and respect the judicial process and are cautiously optimistic the federal judge will recognize the merits of this project. It has been thoroughly examined over the last six years with many opportunities for public participation and comment,” Slayton said.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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