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Historic preservation groups file suit over Dominion transmission line

Two historic preservation groups are the latest to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over a permit for an overhead transmission line in Virginia that crosses the James River.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Virginia filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief Aug. 3 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint challenges the Army Corps' decision to issue a final permit for Dominion Energy Virginia's 500-kV Skiffes Creek transmission line and 17 associated towers, all up to 295 feet tall, across the James River near historic Jamestown, Va.

The groups contend the Corps granted the permit without preparing a full environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Virginia claim the Corps violated the NEPA, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act and its own regulations by approving the project "despite the availability of less damaging practicable alternatives."

The groups request that the court vacate the Corps' approval of the project and remand the issue for further consideration.

"The project would directly harm Jamestown Island, Colonial National Historical Park, Colonial Parkway and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which collectively protect and interpret more than 400 years of our shared American history," the groups said in a joint news release. "It would also jeopardize the $1 billion annual travel and tourism industry, which supports local jobs and generates tax revenues that benefit the region and the state."

The National Parks Conservation Association, or NPCA, filed a similar complaint July 12 and said it plans to block the transmission line "until and unless" the Corps completes an environmental impact statement.

The Corps previously said it is directing media inquiries on the permit complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has declined to comment.

The project is near the Historic Triangle sites of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America.

A nearly eight-mile overhead transmission line will extend from Dominion Energy Virginia's existing switching station near its Surry nuclear plant on the south shore of the James River to a new Skiffes Creek switching station in James City County. The project also involves a new approximately 20-mile, 230-kV line from the Skiffes Creek switching station to Dominion's existing Whealton substation in Hampton.

The James City County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on July 11 to approve a special use permit for the new Skiffes Creek switching station, marking the final major permit needed for the project.

Dominion Energy Inc. subsidiary Dominion Energy Virginia, known legally as Virginia Electric and Power Co., has maintained that the project is critical to the reliability needs of the Virginia Peninsula. The U.S. Department of Energy in June ordered the utility to be ready to fire up its retired Yorktown coal units if regional grid operator PJM Interconnection determines that there is an immediate reliability risk in the region.

Dominion has not yet begun full construction on the transmission project, which is expected to take 18 to 20 months to complete, according to a company spokeswoman.