Why we need the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny Dominion’s permit and protect 400 years of history
More than 400 years of American history are critically at risk in Virginia, where an ill-conceived power plan could put massive 295-foot transmission towers through the landscape where Captain John Smith founded the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Dominion Virginia Power, a for-profit energy company, has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would allow it to build 17 obstructive, brightly lit transmission towers across the James River at Jamestown. The company is proposing another 27 towers throughout the historic landscape that would create a line more than 7.4 miles long. This development would irreparably deface historic Jamestown, Colonial National Historical Park, Colonial Parkway and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
Representatives of Dominion have been using misinformation to support their claims that this project will benefit the region and cause minimal harm to these nationally significant sites. I want to set the record straight by debunking five of these myths and sharing five facts that make our mission to stop this terrible plan all the more urgent.
Myth #1: The region needs the energy from these power lines.
A 2015 report from NPCA and Princeton Energy Research International shows that Dominion’s case for building massive transmission towers is flawed. The company’s analysis is based on increased demand for electricity on our hottest and coldest days, but actual electricity use in Virginia during these times has remained flat in recent years. Dominion’s proposed transmission line would provide more than four times the capacity of the Yorktown plant the company wants to shut down, a capacity that is simply not needed.
Myth #2: Not building the transmission lines will result in rolling blackouts.
Dominion claims that it must shut down its existing Yorktown coal plant when the company could retrofit it to use other fuels. Dominion then claims that this shutdown will cause rolling blackouts in Virginia communities. However, NPCA’s research found that two of the three units at the Yorktown plant have operated a minimal amount since March 2015 and the third unit also has unused generating capacity, and no rolling blackouts have occurred.
Myth #3: The towers will not be noticeable.
I’ve heard claims that these power lines would be sited so that they couldn’t be seen from area historic sites. I’ve even heard that painting the towers gray will allow them to blend into the landscape. The fact of the matter is that some of these brightly lit towers would be nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty and they would slice through a historically significant portion of the James River, forever scarring historic Jamestown, Colonial National Historical Park, the Captain John Smith Trail and other beloved historic sites that tell our shared American story. In addition to changing the way the region looks, it would change the very historic character that so many people specifically come to Jamestown to experience. Not only would the towers be visible along the Colonial Parkway, the power lines would be built across the Captain John Smith Trail, our nation’s first historic water trail.
Myth #4: The landscape is already industrialized.
Dominion spokespeople have stated that commercial and residential structures already exist along the James River and the massive towers won’t make a difference in the quality of the landscape. However, these existing structures do not interfere significantly with the historic character of the region’s national park sites. For more than 400 years, people have protected this 50-mile stretch along the James River from development to preserve the views and historic character at Jamestown. Today, visitors to Jamestown can look out over the river and see a view evocative of what settlers saw hundreds of years ago. Enormous, blinking 295-foot-high transmission towers would industrialize this area in a way that will forever transform this historic landscape.
Myth #5: There are no other reasonable options.
Dominion has numerous options. It could run a transmission line under the river, run existing Yorktown units on oil or natural gas, add capacity in existing transmission line corridors further upriver, or invest in strategies such as increased efficiency to reduce demand. Dominion has insisted on pursuing the transmission tower plan because it preserves company profits, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has so far failed to require the company to consider alternatives that would fulfill the region’s energy needs without degrading the historic character and environmental integrity of the area.
What Dominion lacks is vision, not options.
Now, a few facts.
Fact #1: Once the historic integrity of this region is destroyed, it will be destroyed forever.
This is the spot where Captain John Smith built the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States. It is a place every child learns about in school. We can still go to Jamestown today and imagine what it was like to live there four centuries ago. Once we lose the character of these important sites, we cannot get it back.
Fact #2: This project threatens federally endangered species.
These transmission towers would harm federally endangered, threatened and protected species, including the northern long-eared bat, the whorled pogonia and the bald eagle. Of special concern is the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. These sturgeon were once so plentiful they kept the Jamestown settlers alive, but overfishing put the fish on the brink of extinction. The transmission line would slice through the portion of the James River where these fish spawn twice a year and where sturgeon nurseries are located, significantly impeding the recovery of this endangered species.
Fact #3: The region’s national park sites support a thriving tourist economy, and that economy is threatened by enormous industrial infrastructure defacing the landscape.
Historic Jamestown, Williamsburg and other historic sites in the region drive over $1 billion annually in visitor spending and $80 million in state and local taxes, which supports local jobs and benefits the entire state. People visit Jamestown to understand and experience a significant time in America’s history. A threat to the character of the region is a threat to this important tourism revenue.
Fact #4: The National Park Service and many other organizations strongly oppose this project.
Federal agencies, elected officials, local governments and nonprofit organizations have written to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers citing their concerns over this proposed transmission line, including NPCA, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and many others. Park Service Director Jon Jarvis even shared his family connection to Jamestown in a recent opinion piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch opposing the transmission towers.
Fact #5: The Army Corps of Engineers could make a decision on Dominion’s permit any day now, and the situation doesn’t look good.
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More than 70,000 concerned individuals around the country have already spoken out in opposition to this terrible project. Yet we are hearing that the Corps could issue the needed permit to Dominion any day now, without requiring them to undergo a thorough environmental review. We are asking the Corps to require a complete review of alternatives and for Dominion to choose an alternative that protects our nation’s historic sites. NPCA and its advocates and partners have been fighting this plan for four years and we are determined to do everything in our power to stop it. It’s not too late to send a message to President Obama asking him to step in and save this irreplaceable piece of history from harm.
There is only one Jamestown. Please help us protect it!
About the author
Pamela Goddard Chesapeake and Virginia Senior Program Director, Mid-Atlantic
Pamela Goddard, Director of NPCA's Chesapeake and Virginia Programs, joined NPCA in 2011 to engage park advocates and decision-makers in the Mid-Atlantic in support of strong park policies. When not busy with this mission, you might find her hanging out with her family outdoors or at hole-in-the-wall restaurants.