NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court raised concerns Friday that power lines with towers nearly as high as the Statue of Liberty could spoil the view in one of the nation’s most historically rich areas, a stretch of river in Virginia where England founded its first permanent settlement.
The power lines cross the James River near Jamestown Island. And they began transmitting 500,000 volts of electricity on Tuesday.
Despite the project’s completion, the court directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a full environmental impact statement for the project. The agency previously deemed it to be unnecessary.
The appeals court found that the Corps failed to fully consider the project’s impact before issuing a permit to Dominion Energy. The ruling also said the Corps failed to resolve concerns that were raised in many of the 50,000 public comments that were submitted and by other federal agencies over the years.
For instance, the National Park Service has said utility lines should be run underground in the area, allowing people to experience views similar to what English explorer John Smith saw in the early 1600s.
The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation specifically warned that the power lines threatened to “irreparably alter a relatively unspoiled and evocative landscape.”
“(F)ederal 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,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stated in its ruling.
A U.S. District Court had ruled in May that the project could move forward. The lawsuit against it was filed by preservation groups that include the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Patrick Bloodgood, a U.S. Army Corps spokesman, said the agency is still looking over the court’s decision and “evaluating the findings to determine what the decision entails.”
The Department of Justice is representing the Corps in court. DOJ spokesman Jeremy Edwards declined to comment.
Dominion Energy has long maintained that the $435 million project is crucial to providing reliable service to 600,000 people in cities such as Newport News as well as to a Busch Gardens theme park and a nearby military base.
The lines are transmitting power that was being provided by aging coal-fired plants. And the project’s price tag included federally required payouts that were meant to soften the power lines’ impact. About $90 million went to Native American tribes, local preservation groups and others.
Le-Ha Anderson, a Dominion spokeswoman, said the company is disappointed in the court’s ruling. She said the project was approved after going through a vigorous regulatory process that lasted four years.
“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,” she said.
Sharee Williamson, an attorney the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the Corps will have to seriously consider other options for the project, including running the power lines underground.
“We will continue to advocate for the tower’s to come down,” she said.