Sunday, December 4, 2022

Appeals court rules Dominion power line permit given outside of the law

The Skiffes Creek transmission project was energized on Tuesday despite awaiting the results of an appeal to stop the project. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
The Skiffes Creek transmission project was energized on Tuesday despite awaiting the results of an appeal to stop the project. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Just days after Dominion Energy flipped the power switch for its 500,000-volt Skiffes Creek Transmission Line over the James River, the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled the project’s permit was given outside of the law.

On Friday, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the Army Corps of Engineers failed to follow federal legal requirements when it awarded Dominion the permit to build the 17-tower transmission line in June 2017, Preservation Virginia said in a news release Friday.

The Corps of Engineers granted Dominion the permit to begin construction without having an Environmental Impact Statement completed first.

“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,” said Elizabeth Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia, in a prepared statement. “This ruling will protect the integrity of historic places in the future.”

In the appeal, the National Parks Conservation Association, Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation argued the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy and Clean Water Act when it issued the permit.

On Friday, the appeals court agreed, ordering the Corps of Engineers to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement anyway, Preservation Virginia said.

The court “vacated” the project’s permit Friday.

A panel of three appeals court judges released an opinion Friday, stating: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) granted a permit allowing a utility company to build a series of electrical transmission towers across the historic James River, from whose waters Captain John Smith explored the New World, and it did so without preparing an EIS because it found that the project would have “no significant impact” on the historic treasures along the river. As explained below, however, the Corps’s “no significant impact” finding was arbitrary and capricious: important questions about both the Corps’s chosen methodology and the scope of the project’s impact remain unanswered, and federal and state agencies with relevant expertise harbor serious misgivings about locating a project of this magnitude in a region of such singular importance to the nation’s history.”

Several hours after the news broke, Dominion released a statement on the latest ruling:

“The Corps of Engineers spent four years on its environmental assessment of this project, going above and beyond what was required,” said Dominion spokesman Jeremy Slayton. “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.

“We’re committed to providing reliable, clean energy. Putting this line into service earlier this week is the culmination of years of regulatory, environmental and community engagement.

“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.”

Slayton declined to specify whether the line will stay “active,” or if it will be taken down or deconstructed.

“The line is up and delivering electricity to the 600,000 residents who live and work on the Peninsula,” he said.

Dominion flipped the switch for the line Tuesday after a years-long process of planning and legal battles. Concern for the transmission project was raised as early as 2012.

Dominion has said the 500,000-volt line is crucial to avoid rolling blackouts on the Virginia Peninsula. Some of the towers are as tall as 295 feet and carry power from Dominion’s Surry County nuclear plant to lower James City County.

In May 2018, a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia judge ruled against a lawsuit filed by Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The judge said the Corps had complied with both acts.

The two conservation organizations set an appeal in motion one month later.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation still hopes the towers will be removed.

“Preserving the James River and powering the surrounding region aren’t mutually exclusive, said Paul Edmondson, interim president and CEO, National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a prepared statement. “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.”

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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