For four long years, Scenic Virginia and an incredible coalition of preservation colleagues have fought Dominion Energy’s efforts to secure the permits for an inappropriately massive utility transmission line project across the James River near the birthplace of America, Jamestown.
Dominion’s 500kV Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton transmission line would drastically alter the integrity of views from Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Parkway, Carter’s Grove, and other areas of significant scenic and historic interest. Some of the towers will sprawl upward to 295 feet — as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Our friends at the National Trust for Historic Preservation stressed the importance of this fight, noting, “The James River flows through a collection of nationally recognized cultural, historic, and natural resources located in Virginia’s Historic Triangle — a region which receives over 3.5 million visitors annually. Our objective is to persuade decision-makers to bury the transmission line or adopt an alternative route.”
The National Trust also created the animated video below showing the impact of the project on the surrounding landscape.
A study completed by an independent engineering firm commissioned by the National Trust identified four alternatives that would not require a river crossing. In addition, the report concluded that these alternatives “would satisfy the area’s electrical needs and meet all relevant federal reliability standards, while also costing less and taking less time to build than Dominion’s proposal.” You can read the full report by clicking here.
As Consulting Parties in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 106 permit process, Scenic Virginia and our colleagues attended many hearings to urge that the USACE require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project. An EIS is important to understand in full detail the impacts of the transmission line on historic, environmental, cultural, recreational, and scenic resources. The EIS would also require alternatives to the transmission line to be examined more closely.
Despite the best efforts of the Consulting Parties, the Army Corps issued Dominion a conditional permit on June 12. On June 27, 2017 the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) approved Dominion Energy’s plan to cross state-owned river bottom. On July 11, the James City County Board of Supervisors voted to grant a Special Use Permit for the project’s required switching station. These were the final two obstacles for Dominion to secure a final permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Not Over Yet
On July 12, 2017, however, the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the planned transmission line by challenging the authorization of the project. The lawsuit notes that although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepared an environmental assessment before issuing the permit, they failed to complete a more detailed environmental impact statement (EIS).
On August 3, 2017, the National Trust and Preservation Virginia also filed a lawsuit “to ensure that legal, proper, and reasonable steps are taken to protect this iconic place in American history by analyzing the project’s impacts and viable alternatives.” This lawsuit similarly aims to require the Army Corps to complete an EIS.
Scenic Virginia supports both efforts, and we encourage our supporters to do so as well. Visit the websites of the National Trust, Preservation Virginia, and the National Parks Conservation Association to provide financial assistance to this cause.
We continue to maintain that alternatives exist that would do far less damage to Virginia’s historic and scenic beauty. We will keep you updated as both lawsuits move forward.
Where Things Stand
Scenic Virginia and other Consulting Parties did not sign on to Dominion’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), a legally binding document that describes how Dominion plans to mitigate the project’s damage to scenic, cultural, historic, and environmental sites. We did so because we believe that it is not possible to mitigate the negative impacts of this project.
That said, we are staying vigilant to ensure that Dominion does what it promised in signing the MOA last December. For example, we learned recently that Dominion has requested an Army Corps exemption from a MOA requirement that it coat/treat the steel used in the utility towers to reduce their visibility. Dominion now states that they purchased steel for the project in 2013 (prior to securing a permit) and claims it would be excessively cumbersome to retro-coat this product. In response, Scenic Virginia sent a strongly worded letter to Dominion Energy and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers stressing that Dominion must abide by the terms of the agreement that it signed willingly.
Click on the link below to read it. And let us know what you think.
It’s Not Too Late to Get Involved
Sign up for our Action Alerts, and consider sharing this information with concerned citizens, organizations, and groups. Citizens must be educated about the devastatingly negative impacts of projects like this on Virginia’s scenic and historic resources because there will be other projects like this in the future. It is important to be aware and prepared.
You can contact us if you have any questions. We look forward to staying in touch.