A 500,000-volt power line was energized across the James River on Tuesday despite a pending court appeal to stop the project.
“We appreciate and respect the judicial process…It has been thoroughly examined over the last several years with many opportunities for public participation and comment,” said Bonita Harris, spokeswoman for Dominion.
The Skiffes Creek Project from Dominion Energy finally flipped the switch Tuesday after years of planning and battles in court.
With the construction of 17 towers, Dominion said the project is “vitally important” to provide reliable energy to customers on the Peninsula, according to a news release fro Dominion.
The towers, some of which are as tall as 295 feet, will carry an electrical transmission line over the James River to provide power from Dominion’s Surry County nuclear plant to lower James City County.
Concern for the transmission project was raised as early as 2012, when Colonial Williamsburg, the College of William & Mary and Preservation Virginia submitted a joint letter to the State Corporation Commission opposing the project, saying it would destroy the area’s historical and cultural heritage.
But Dominion argued it was necessary to protect customers from widespread and uncontrollable outages.
In 2017 Preservation Virginia and another conservation group filed lawsuits against the Army Corps of Engineers.
The lawsuit from Preservation Virginia and the National Parks Conservation Association claimed the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy and Clean Water Act when it issued a permit for the project to Dominion.
In the summer of 2017, the Corps granted Dominion a permit to begin construction. The two groups argued the permit was granted without completing an environmental impact statement, as required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act.
In May 2018 Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the lawsuit and said the Corps had complied with both acts.
The two conservation organizations appealed the ruling in June 2018.
“Preservation Virginia and the other members of our coalition have long maintained that there are alternatives that would preserve the integrity of the historic, cultural and natural resources along the James River corridor and deliver electric power to the Peninsula,” said Elizabeth Kostelny, chief executive officer, in a statement conveyed through the organization’s marketing manager, Brittney Jubert. “Those alternatives should have been thoroughly explored through an Environmental Impact Statement by the Army Corps of Engineers. The goal of our appeal is to defend the National Historic Preservation Act and specifically how Sections 106 and 110 are applied in this instance and with future projects that involve National Historic Landmarks and National Park units.”
Section 106 of the NHPA states that federal agencies must consider the effects of federally funded projects on historic properties, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities website.
Section 110 explains broad historic preservation responsibilities of federal agencies to ensure that historic preservation is fully integrated into ongoing programs.
Jubert said she did not know when a decision on the appeal is expected to be made.
Dominion was able to move forward with the project because the company had permission from the Army Corps to proceed with the permitted granted to them, Harris said.
“We just have to remain cautiously optimistic that we will have a favorable result of appeal,” Harris said. “We know how critical this project is and didn’t want to take the risk of unreliable electricity for people on the peninsula.”
Dominion believes the project will bring energy-efficient solutions to a long-term problem.
With the energizing of Skiffes Creek, two coal-fired units in Yorktown will be retired in March. A third is projected to close in 2022. This will provide access to low and no-carbon sources of power, according to the news release.
“This is a big victory for Dominion and the people that rely on electricity,” Harris said.
“As we await the decision, we remain focused on keeping the lights on for 600,000 people who work and live on the Peninsula,” she added in an email. “That is our priority and we remain committed to doing what’s best for our customers, the environment, as well as the cultural and historic resources in the area.”
The National Parks Conservation Association did not immediately respond for comment