Sunday, September 25, 2022

Dominion to build Skiffes Creek regardless of JCC approval

A simulated view of the Skiffes Creek project from the Kingsmill Resort area. (Courtesy Dominion Power)

Cranes, cables and steel trusses might soon be a sight on the James River.

At a meeting Tuesday evening, James City County Supervisors will complete the five-year negotiation process with Dominion Energy regarding construction of power lines over the river. It comes down to a vote on a zoning permit for a proposed electrical switching station in Grove.

But regardless of the county’s decision, the $185 million project is going up, Dominion says.

“Regardless of the vote, it doesn’t change the need for the line, or the permit from the Corps to build it,” Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said. “We are moving forward with construction.”

The project, called the Surry-Skiffes Creek Connector, aims to construct high-voltage transmission lines over the James River to provide better “electrical reliability” to the Peninsula, according to Dominion Energy.

Previously, Dominion has alluded to the possibility of rolling blackouts if the project is not constructed. Detractors of the project have said it will destroy the area’s historical and cultural heritage.

If supervisors approve the zoning permit for the construction of the switching station, Dominion plans to route the lines across the river from Surry County and directly to the station in Grove, near the Skiffes Creek Reservoir.

If supervisors don’t approve the permit, Dominion says it will run power lines to run for a longer distance than necessary — and will look elsewhere for a suitable switching station location.

On July 3, the electric utility corporation received final approval for the project’s construction, but the company is still waiting for approval from supervisors for a permit to build the switching station.

“We believe the US Army Corps of Engineers has done a diligent and thorough review,” Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Billingsley Harris said. “The permit from the Corps is a critical part of the project, and now allows us to begin construction on the line portion of the project.” 

While Dominion moves forward, the project has come under intense scrutiny from local residents and national figures alike. Former Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Parks Conservation Association President Theresa Pierno have both expressed concern about its construction. 

“It is extremely disappointing that the Army Corps has agreed to let this destructive project move forward,” Pierno said. “These transmission towers, many the size of the Statue of Liberty, would deface a landscape that has stood for 400 years.”

Jewell weighed in on the matter in the last days of the Obama administration, calling the project “unsuitable.”

The Skiffes Creek project will have “demonstrated significant impacts to irreplaceable historic resources,” Jewell said in a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy.

On June 12, Dominion Energy was sent a “provisional initial proffered permit” by the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Norfolk District Chief of Public Affairs Mark Haviland.

There were two terms to the provisional permit that needed to be fulfilled for the permit to become permanent: a permit from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and a permit or waiver from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Dominion received a permit from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and a waiver from the VDEQ on June 30th — setting it up for the US Army Corps of Engineers to sign off on the project July 3.

Those permits required water quality and historical surveys of the waters and river bed before the Corps approved construction.

Once begun, construction of the power lines will take about 18-20 months, Harris said.

Area residents will have the final opportunity to comment on a proposed electrical switching station — which would be constructed as part of the project — at a James City County Board of Supervisor’s meeting at 5:00 p.m. on July 11.

People wishing to speak before the Board of Supervisors should arrive early to the meeting to fill out a speaker’s card.

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