A federal judge has decided against demolishing the controversial Dominion Energy transmission line that stretched across a portion on the James River, according to court documents.
In February, Dominion Energy flipped the switch on a 17-tower, 500,000-volt transmission line that the company argued was crucial to avoid rolling blackouts on the Virginia Peninsula. The line carries power from Dominion’s Surry County nuclear plant to lower James City County.
However, the National Parks Conservation Association, Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed an appeal against the permit, which was awarded in 2017, arguing it violated the National Environmental Policy and Clean Water Act when it was issued because there had not been an Environmental Impact Statement completed first.
In March, a judge ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and ruled that the power line construction permit was given outside of the law because an impact statement was not completed in advance.
Despite that, the Judge Royce C. Lamberth granted Dominion Energy and the Corps of Engineers motion for remand without vacatur, according to a news release from the National Parks Conservation Association.
Vacatur is a Latin term which means “to set aside a judgment.”
“Today’s (Friday) ruling is an extremely disappointing decision,” Thersa Pierno, president and chief operating officer of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in the news release. “Especially given that the previous court ruling found the Army Corps illegally granted Dominion a permit to build this massive transmission tower.”
In his 19-page ruling, Lamberth states “if there would be actual harm as a result of the vacatur, it pales in comparison to the harm plaintiffs suffer while the lines and towers remain in place.”
Lamberth continued to say the ruling does not mean ignoring the harm that would result, but rather the negative impacts of keeping the project in place during the Environmental Impact Study from the Army Corps of Engineers does not “outweigh” the harm that would be caused should a vacatur be ordered.
“Regardless of what defendants did or did not argue on appeal, the hundreds of thousands of people whose power source could be impacted by this decision are not responsible for what defendants included in their appelle briefs, yet they are the ones who would be directly affected if the Court failed to reach the remedy issue in this case,” according to Lambeth’s ruling.
“For all these reasons, the second Allied-Signal factor forces the Court to conclude that vacating the permit would be inappropriate.”
Bonita Harris, spokeswoman for Dominion Energy emailed the following statement:
“We appreciate the court’s time and attention on this issue and we respect the court’s ruling. Dominion Energy has an obligation and a commitment to maintain electric reliability for the 600,000 people who live and work on the Virginia Peninsula. Keeping the existing transmission line energized while the Environmental Impact Statement is prepared is the responsible thing to do and provides safe, reliable power to the Peninsula.”
Read Preservation Virginia’s statement about the ruling here.