Construction will continue on the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmissions line project after a federal judge’s decision.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed two lawsuits from conservation groups Thursday, thereby allowing Dominion Energy to continue construction of the project, according to a press release from Preservation Virginia.
“We are pleased the judge denied the lawsuit seeking to halt construction of this project that is so critical to our customers who live and work on the Peninsula,” said Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Harris. “Dominion Energy remains committed to building this urgently needed and thoroughly studied project.”
The Skiffes Creek project will include the construction of 17 towers — some as tall as 295 feet — to carry an electrical transmission line over the James River that will bring power from Dominion’s Surry County nuclear plant to lower James City County.
Dominion has said the project is necessary to provide reliable energy to customers on the Peninsula.
The two lawsuits were filed last summer against both Dominion and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The first lawsuit was filed in August 2017 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The second lawsuit was filed by the National Parks Conservation Association in July 2017.
All three groups are nonprofits that aim to preserve historic sites.
The three groups alleged that the Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act in issuing a permit to Dominion to begin the project. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Virginia also alleged violations of the National Historic Preservation Act.
In their lawsuits, the groups said that the Corps granted Dominion a permit to begin construction last summer without completing an environmental impact statement, which is necessary by law under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to Preservation Virginia.
The statement is meant to address any adverse environmental consequences of projects and present alternative actions.
After reviewing administrative records and case law in search of arbitrary, capricious or unlawful actions, Judge Royce Lamberth deemed the Corps omade an informed decision and was in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. In lieu of the impact statement, the Corps filed a finding of no significant impact and an environmental assessment in June 2017, which were deemed by the court to be sufficient.
The ruling only said the Corps followed the necessary procedural steps but did not determine whether the agency came to the right “substantive result” regarding the project’s impacts.
The plaintiffs also contended the project would “directly harm” historic sites along the river, including Jamestown Island, Colonial National Historical Park, the Colonial Parkway and the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
“As the steward of Historic Jamestowne for 125 years, we’re disappointed by the court’s decision,” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia. “We remain concerned about the negative consequence to the history, economy and legacy of the Historic Triangle region. Preservation of the James River has been and will continue to be our priority as we consider our next steps. With the approach of the commemoration in 2019, we will continue work to preserve this nationally and internationally significant site and region.”
However, Lamberth said, ”ultimately, the Corps did enough” to conclude the impacts would not be significant by engaging in “reasoned analysis” and consulting experts.
The ruling also said that the Corps explored 28 alternatives, finding only the proposed project and a Chickahominy-Skiffes Creek line practical.
“Despite plaintiffs’ concerns, the court is convinces that the Corps adequately analyzed the issue and came to a reasonable conclusion,” the ruling said.
The Corps was found to be in compliance with the Clean Water Act by seeking and considering reviews from other federal agencies before deciding the project is in the public interest.
Finally, the court found that any impacts made to the historic areas would be “strictly visual” rather than “direct,” as the properties themselves will not be disturbed.
“Construction is going well and on track for completion by the summer of 2019,” Harris said.