National Parks Conservation Association files lawsuit challenging Army Corps’ permit to Dominion

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) on July 12 said that it has filed a lawsuit, which, as noted in its complaint before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ July 3 issuance of a permit to Virginia Electric and Power (Dominion’s (NYSE:D) Dominion Energy Virginia) authorizing the company to build and operate a transmission project.

As TransmissionHub reported, the Norfolk District of the Army Corps issued a permit to the company to build a new high voltage aerial electrical transmission line, known as the Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton project.

As noted on the permit, the permit became effective on July 3 when the federal official designated to act for the Secretary of the Army signed it.

According to the Army Corps’ website, the project consists of three components: the Surry-Skiffes Creek 500-kV aerial transmission line; the Skiffes Creek 500-kV-230-kV-115-kV switching station; and the Skiffes Creek-Whealton 230-kV aerial transmission line.

In total, the project will permanently impact 2,712 square feet – 0.06 acres – of subaqueous river bottom and 281 square feet – 0.01 acres – of non-tidal wetlands, and convert 0.56 acres of palustrine forested wetlands to scrub shrub non-tidal wetlands, according to the site.

In its complaint, the NPCA said, in part: “It would be impossible to select a more historically and culturally significant location to construct and operate this project. The intrusive transmission line and the massive steel lattice towers supporting the transmission line will cut through or very near dozens of crucially important national park units, historic properties, and battlefields in the center of Virginia’s ‘Historic Triangle.’”

According to the NPCA, the Army Corps identified nearly 60 properties that will be adversely impacted by the project, including Historic Jamestowne.

“Because this region is so critical to our nation’s founding and to our citizens’ understanding of our country’s roots, Congress, federal agencies, and state agencies have for more than a century taken myriad steps to conserve this region and protect its integrity by maintaining the landscape in a pristine and primitive condition similar to what existed when Europeans first arrived to Jamestowne in the early 1600s,” the NPCA said.

Noting that in issuing the permit, the Army Corps prepared an environmental assessment, the NPCA added: “Despite the substantially disruptive impacts of this project that will permanently mar the landscape from the vantage point of dozens of national park units and historic properties, the Corps determined that it was not required to analyze the project’s impacts and potential alternatives in a more detailed environmental impact statement (“EIS”). The Corps reached this decision despite many members of the public and three federal agencies – [the National Park Service, or] NPS, [the Department of the Interior, or] DOI, and the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) – urging the Corps to prepare an EIS due to the significant impacts that will result from the project.”

The NPCA claimed that the Army Corps minimized the significance of the anticipated impacts by labeling all aesthetic, cultural, historic, and/or recreational impacts as “subjective,” and thus insignificant since they are particular to the individual.

“However, the Corps failed to take a ‘hard look’ at these impacts in the manner required by [the National Environmental Policy Act, or] NEPA because the significance of an impact does not turn on whether there is some level of subjectivity but whether, in fact, the introduction of a massive industrial project is a significant intrusion that negatively impacts the physical environment and the consequent visitor experience in enjoying the primitive landscapes that have been maintained and conserved for decades through conscious and deliberative efforts by Congress, federal agencies, and state agencies,” the NPCA added.

An Army Corps spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment on July 14.

The Army Corps permit included such conditions as that if the company discovers any previously unknown historic or archaeological remains while accomplishing the activity authorized by the permit, then the company must immediately stop work and notify the Army Corps office of what was found.

A Dominion spokesperson told TransmissionHub on July 14: “We are reviewing the complaint, but fully stand behind the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision. This urgently needed energy project has been thoroughly studied and approved over the past five years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia State Corporation Commission, the Virginia Supreme Court and other agencies. It is clearly needed to maintain electric reliability for more than 600,000 people and was carefully sited to ensure it would not be visible from the Jamestowne Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg and the Yorktown Battlefield.”

She added that the location of the river crossing already is impacted by other development, and that every other alternative fails to meet the need, or has greater environmental and cultural impacts.

“No amount of additional study will change the facts,” she said. “Additional delay is contrary to public interest.”

The Army Corps and other approving agencies followed the law and based their permitting decisions on sound legal basis after considerable study and input from the public and various other constituents, the spokesperson said, adding, “This has been one of the most heavily scrutinized infrastructure projects in the history of Virginia and any further delay in its construction will only put at greater risk our ability to keep the lights on in the Peninsula.”

She noted that the company does not expect this issue to impact the construction process.

The spokesperson noted that the James City County Board of Supervisors on July 11 voted 3-2 to approve a switching station, which is part of the project. 

“This project has been thoroughly examined over the last five years with many, many opportunities for public participation and comment,” she said. “We know this was not an easy decision, and we appreciate the board recognizing the importance of this project.” 

The company has begun construction on portions of the 230-kV line, she said, adding that the company is working with parties involved in a memorandum of agreement to satisfy certain stipulations before it can start work on the 500-kV river crossing. As with any construction project, the company will also obtain additional permits for right of way access and railroad crossings, she said, adding that the company’s target is to start full construction in August. The project will take 18-20 months to complete, she noted. 

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.