Environmental study slated for Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line

Staff writer

A court-ordered environmental study of Dominion Energy’s transmission line across the James River is coming up, and Dominion is trying to get the court to backtrack an order that the line’s permit be revoked while that study is conducted.

The latest twist in the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line saga comes on the orders of a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, who ruled March 1 that the Corps’ decision not to conduct a environmental impact statement when it awarded Dominion the necessary permit to build the project was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with the law” and ordered revocation of the permit.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to conduct an environmental impact statement for proposed major construction projects unless the agency finds there will be no significant impacts.

But there are significant impacts, the judge ruled. The judge’s ruling came just days after Dominion flipped the switch on the $390-million project that erected 17 towers from Surry County to James City County.

Dominion has insisted the project is vital to ensure service to 600,000 customers on the Peninsula, and that it has been done in an environmentally conscious way. As part of the project, Dominion allocated $90 million in funding for a mitigation plan intended to offset the project’s effects on the area.

After a bit of floundering in the days after the judicial determination as Dominion and the Corps ascertained what it all meant, Dominion has asked the court to reconsider its order to invalidate the permit while the environmental study is conducted.

“We have asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration of the order to vacate the Army Corps permit while the Environmental Impact Statement is prepared. This existing transmission line remains critical to Dominion Energy’s ability to provide safe, reliable power for the Virginia Peninsula,” Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton said in an email.

The wire is still live and providing electricity. It’s unclear exactly when the study will begin, he said.

“We are committed to making sure this process is successful and will do everything we can to provide the Army Corp of Engineers with the information necessary to conduct an accurate and timely environmental impact statement,” Slayton said.

The court requested preservation and conservation organizations critical of the project to file a response to Dominion’s request and gave them a deadline of 15 days from April 19, said Pam Goddard of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The National Parks Conservation Association looks forward to working with the Corps to ensure alternatives and project impacts are fully considered this time around, she said.

“We have tried for years to work with Dominion to find a better solution,” Goddard said. “They took a huge risk building this project.”

The controversial project has been in the crosshairs of preservationists and environmentalists for years, who have charged the project threatens the area’s historical and natural resources.

“The EIS should include a thorough review of alternatives, including options other than the transmission line that was unlawfully permitted. We see no reason to interrupt the transmission of electric power until an alternative is identified,” Preservation Virginia CEO Elizabeth Kostelny said in a statement.

Conservation groups initially sued the Corps in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017, arguing the Corps failed to satisfy National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act requirements when it signed off on the permit. The district judge ruled in the Corps favor in May 2018.

That being a lower court, the appeals court’s decision reversed the ruling. The appeals court judge’s order didn’t offer any ideas or directives in regard to what to do with the transmission line.

“Since 2014, Preservation Virginia and our partners have asked for an Environmental Impact Statement to fully examine alternatives to the proposed transmission line and to identify an option that will both protect the historic, scenic and environmental integrity of the James River and deliver the necessary electric power to the Peninsula,” Kostelny said.

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

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