Supreme Court Denies Dominion’s Motion for Rehearing of James River Power Line Case

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A simulated view of the over-river power line from the Kingsmill area. (Photo courtesy Dominion)
A simulated view of the over-river power line from the Kingsmill area. (Photo courtesy Dominion)

The Supreme Court of Virginia announced Friday it will not rehear part of a contentious case over a power line proposed to cross the James River, leaving the critical decision of whether to allow a switching station in Grove in the hands of the James City County Board of Supervisors.

The court ruled in April that while the route for the proposed line from Surry County to a point near Carter’s Grove is acceptable, James City County still has the final say over whether to allow the switching station to be built in Grove.

Dominion Virginia Power and the State Corporation Commission — the regulatory agency that oversees Virginia utilities — appealed to the court in April to rehear the portion of the case concerning the rezoning, as the switching station is a critical component of the project.

The court released two brief documents Friday denying the bid for a rehearing without offering an explanation.

Dominion Spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley-Harris said in an email that the utility “respects” the court’s decision.

“[Dominion] continues to assess our multiple options regarding the switching station to move forward with the transmission line as ordered by the SCC and affirmed by the Supreme Court,” she wrote.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is one of the groups leading the charge against the line.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome [of Friday’s decision],” said Sharee Williamson, associate general counsel for the group. “We believe the court made the right decision the first time, and we’re pleased to see they have declined to revisit the issue. Given the national significance of the historic resources at stake, we think this second look is important.”

April’s decision cleared the way for the lines to be built on latticed metal towers up to 295 feet tall, but it did not agree with the utility’s assertion the switching station is part of a transmission facility, which would have allowed Dominion to bypass local zoning ordinances to build the station.

If Dominion wants to move forward with building a switching station at the site it had previously selected in James City County, it will have to file an application with the county to receive a permit to build the station. The board of supervisors has the final say over the awarding of the permit. No application has yet been filed.

The county and several historic preservation groups strongly oppose the project, claiming it would mar the pristine vistas of the James River. They believe the utility has other options for a route that would not cause so much damage to the view.

But the utility says the route is the only acceptable place for the line to be built. It has issued a lengthy rebuttal of many of the routes suggested by the lines opponents, and it says if the line is not operational by 2017, the Peninsula may experience brownouts for up to 80 days per year. The line is required to offset the power lost by the impending closure of the Yorktown coal-fired power plant due to regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The line was approved by the SCC last year, however that decision was appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia by James City County, the Save the James Alliance and the James River Association.

The line would originate from a switching station near the Surry Nuclear Power Station. From there, it would cross the James River beginning at a point near the Hog Island State Waterfowl Refuge and coming ashore near Carter’s Grove. It would be most visible from Carter’s Grove, however the Colonial Parkway, the southern tip of Jamestown Island and residences in Kingsmill would also be affected.

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