Dominion Virginia Power Proposes $85M to Assuage Critics

The proposal is being reviewed by more than two dozen historic preservation and conservation groups, among others.

📅   Tue March 01, 2016 - Northeast Edition
Steve Szkotak - Associated Press


The proposal is being reviewed by more than two dozen historic preservation and conservation groups, among others.
The proposal is being reviewed by more than two dozen historic preservation and conservation groups, among others.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Dominion Virginia Power is proposing to help Jamestown Island weather rising seas as part of $85 million in conservation and environmental investments to assuage critics of its plan to erect towering transmission lines across an historic section of the James River.

The utility's so-called mitigation projects are laid out in a proposed memorandum of agreement filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The proposal is being reviewed by more than two dozen historic preservation and conservation groups, among others.

The Army Corps' Norfolk office is assessing Dominion's proposal to erect the transmission towers across the James, some nearly matching the height of the Statue of Liberty. It expects to act on the proposal this year.

Opponents who have seen the Dominion mitigation proposals are not swayed, contending that the utility should select another route for the transmission line or bury it under the river. The towers would be within view of Jamestown and other historical attractions.

“I feel really strongly that this is irreplaceable landscape,” Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, said. “We need to avoid impacts to it as much as possible.”

Approved by Virginia regulators, the Dominion project would suspend a 500-kilovolt transmission line across 4.1 mi. (6.6 km) of the James River on 17 steel towers, with some rising nearly 300 ft. (91.44 m) above the river's surface.

Dominion said it investigated alternative routes and concluded it settled on the best path. Burying the transmission line, it has said, would multiply the cost of the project and add a layer of complexity to any future repairs.

The company has said the transmission line is needed to serve a growing customer base and to ensure reliable power in the Tidewater area.

Dominion's mitigation plan calls for land conservation, shoreline protection, environmental initiatives and the rehabilitation of the seawall at Jamestown, among other proposals. Besides Jamestown, the section of the river the transmission line would cross includes the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and historic Indian sites.

In a statement, Dominion said its aim is to “find a solution that meets the electrical requirements, is cost effective, and minimizes or mitigates as much as possible the impact of the historical, cultural and environmental resources of the region.”

The statement concludes, “We believe this agreement helps accomplish this goal.”

A leading opponent of the project, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said it was reviewing Dominion's mitigation proposals but is disappointed Dominion remains committed to its river route.

“It's premature to tell what our exact response will be,” said Sharee Williamson, associate general counsel for the trust. “Our goal will definitely remain the same: to make sure this place is protected.”

Jamestown archaeologist Bill Kelso said he had not studied Dominion's proposals, but remains opposed to transmission towers that would be visible from the island settled by Europeans more than 400 years ago.

“It's such a pristine section of one of the most important rivers in the United States,” he said.

That said, he acknowledged the island is “kind of the poster child for climate change.” Portions of Jamestown are steadily eroding amid fierce storms and rising seas, he said.

The National Park Service estimates a 1.5-ft. (.45 m) rise in sea level would put 60 percent of the island under water.

Tom Walker, chief of the regulatory branch at the Army Corps' Norfolk office, said the corps continues to gather information from all parties.

“We anticipate getting some good input from the consulting parties and we will use that to help form our final decision in the process,” he said.