Norfolk District of Army Corps issues permit to Dominion Energy for project involving 500-kV line

The Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit to Dominion Energy to build a new high voltage aerial electrical transmission line, known as the Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton project, the Army Corps said on its website.

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.

On why it is involved, the Army Corps noted that transmission lines will cross several Section 10 waterways, in addition to structures being built in the James River, as well as structural discharges occurring in non-tidal wetlands regulated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The activities required a Corps permit under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act regulations, according to the site.

Discussing the project, the permit noted that the first of the three components – the Surry-Skiffes Creek line – proposes construction of a 7.92-mile, single circuit, 500-kV overhead transmission line that extends from the existing Surry Nuclear Power Plant Switching Station to the proposed Skiffes Creek switching station in James City County.

That segment proposes a 4.11-mile crossing over the James River, which involves the construction of 17 steel lattice towers and four fender protection systems, resulting in 2,712 square feet of direct impacts to subaqueous river bottom caused by the installation of (416) 24-inch steel piles encased within 26-inch fiberglass sleeves for transmission tower foundations and (240) 30-inch fiber piles for fender protection systems.

The Skiffes Creek switching station is proposed to be built in James City County and includes the installation of one 500-kV terminal, five 230-kV terminals, and three 115-kV terminals, as well as transformers and additional transmission equipment, the permit added. About 20.6 acres of forest will be cleared, and as part of that acreage, 0.02 acres of forested wetlands will be permanently converted to scrub shrub wetlands via selective hand clearing, resulting in no discharge of fill material.

The permit also noted that the third component – the Skiffes Creek-Whealton line – involves construction of a new 230-kV double circuit, overhead transmission line that extends about 20.2 miles within an existing utility right of way (ROW) from the proposed Skiffes Creek switching station to an existing Whealton substation in Hampton. Proposed work will include new transmission towers and replacement structures within the existing ROW, which must be reconfigured to accommodate the new 230-kV double circuit line, according to the permit.

Project specific conditions include that the time limit for completing the work authorized ends on June 12, 2020. Should the company be unable to complete the authorized activity in the time limit provided, it must submit its request for a time extension to the Army Corps office for consideration at least one month before the permit expiration date, the permit added.

Special conditions include that the construction or work authorized by the permit is to be conducted in a manner so as to minimize any degradation of water quality and/or damage to aquatic life.

The permit also noted that general conditions include 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 company spokesperson on July 7 told TransmissionHub that the project is estimated to cost $270m.

“We have begun construction along portions of the 230kV line,” she said. “Once we finalize prerequisites associated with the [memorandum of understanding, or] MOA, we will begin construction on the 500kV portion of the line. The project is expected to take 18-20 months to complete once full construction is underway.”

The spokesperson said that the MOA is an agreement to ensure protections to important cultural, historic, and environmental resources in the Jamestown/Yorktown/Williamsburg area.

The MOA commits Dominion to provide about $90m “for a number of landscape and viewshed enhancements, shoreline protection and water quality improvements,” she said. “Signing the agreement were the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Commonwealth of Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dominion.”

The Army Corps permit was conditional on the company obtaining two other permits from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), she said, adding that the company has obtained both of those permits.

“We have all the permits necessary to begin constructing the line,” the spokesperson said. “The only thing that we have not secured at this point is a special use permit for the switching station.”

As TransmissionHub reported, the company, in a June 27 filing made with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC), said that consistent with an opinion by the Supreme Court of Virginia, it filed in June 2015 a special use permit application (SUP), a rezoning request, a substantial accord determination request, and a height waiver application for a switching station in James City County associated with the certificated project.

The James City County Planning Commission in August 2015 voted against recommending approval of the switching station, and the company subsequently filed an appeal of the substantial accord determination to the James City County Board of Supervisors – the JCC Board, which will make the final determination on the SUP, rezoning and height waiver requests, and will hear the appeal on the substantial accord determination, the company added.

The company said that it has sought – and obtained JCC Board approval for – several deferrals. With additional delays in the Corps process, the company said that it submitted another deferral request dated Nov. 14, 2016 until the June 27 JCC Board meeting, which the board approved on Nov. 22, 2016, the company said.

On May 23, the JCC Board granted the company’s request to move the hearing date of the applications to July 11, in accordance with the JCC Board’s January policy change regarding public hearings – the JCC Board has made a policy change so that public hearing matters would be scheduled only during the first meeting of the month and that work session matters that do not require a public hearing would be scheduled for the second meeting of the month.

The James River Association – which last December told the SCC that the Army Corps is required to consider alternatives to the project – in June said that it was “disappointed that the Army Corps of Engineers has issued a conditional approval for transmission lines that would mar such a historic and significant stretch of river – one at the heart of the birth of our nation. Less costly options that meet the project criteria but avoid a river crossing have been identified.”

In response to project opposition, the company spokesperson said, “This is a critical project to bring reliable and cleaner energy to” the peninsula, and added: “Dominion worked very hard to find a route that would have the least impact on historical, cultural, and environmental areas, and we feel that we’ve done a very thorough job in identifying that route. The route that’s just been approved avoids many of the areas that opponents say will be affected by this transmission line,” including the Jamestown Settlement.

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.