Appeals court vacates Dominion’s James River transmission line permit

Virginia Mercury

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to follow federal legal requirements when it gave Dominion Energy a permit to build a massive power line and 17 towers across the James River near Historic Jamestowne, according to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The transmission lines run from Surry to Skiffes Creek and include towers reaching as high as 295 feet. Dominion has said the line is necessary to provide reliable electricity to the Peninsula.

The Court of Appeals issued its decision Friday, according to a Preservation Virginia press release. It vacated Dominion’s permit and directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop an Environmental Impact Statement.

“The D.C. Circuit not only ordered the Corps to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on remand, but also to consider practicable alternatives to the transmission line in compliance with NEPA and the Clean Water Act,” a news release from the National Parks Conservation Association states.

Historic groups strongly opposed the towers’ construction, arguing that the project would severely alter the landscape around the historic settlement.

“Preserving the James River and powering the surrounding region aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Paul Edmondson, interim president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the release. “Had the Army Corps followed the law, a project alternative that delivers power and preserves this nationally significant landscape could have been identified. We remain committed to seeing these towers removed.”

The towers were turned on earlier this week, moving 500,000 volts of power across the river, according to The Daily Press. They cost about $430 million to construct.

“Our coalition maintained throughout the process that the James River’s iconic indigenous cultural landscape and the integrity of the views from Jamestown, the Colonial Parkway and Carter’s Grove could be preserved and electric power could be delivered to the Peninsula,” Elizabeth Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia, said in the release. “This ruling will protect the integrity of historic places in the future.”

In a statement, Dominion said corps spent four years on an environmental assessment of the project that went “above and beyond” what was required.

“We are disappointed this ruling dismisses that effort. The Skiffes Creek Transmission project remains a valid and vital line serving the 600,000 residents who live and work on the Peninsula,” the company said.

“During the entirety of the construction process we worked to protect the environment in all of our operations. We will continue to keep reliability and environmental stewardship at the forefront as we evaluate the court’s decision and determine our course of action.”

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.