Dominion Virginia Power has proposed routes for a high-voltage power line that would cut through parts of Prince William, Loudoun and Fauquier counties, moving forward a project that officials say is necessary to avoid blackouts but critics contend will unnecessarily scar some of the most fiercely preserved land in the state.
The route bypasses most areas set aside for conservation and most well-known historical landmarks, such as Bull Run battlefield, Dominion officials said. Nonetheless, the power line would pass through other Civil War sites, small towns and what many consider to be among the state’s most attractive countryside.
“We could not avoid every impact to this rich area,” said John D. Smatlak, Dominion’s vice president for electric transmission. “But our goal was to minimize it wherever possible.”
Dominion, which serves most of Northern Virginia, says a new line is needed to serve the region’s growing population and its power-hungry high-tech companies. Demand is expected to grow 8 percent in five years, when the line would go into service. The line is expected to provide enough electricity to power 275,000 homes and will help reduce stress on the electric systems across the mid-Atlantic region, Dominion officials say.
But the thought of a huge, unsightly power line cutting across the largely undeveloped hills of northwestern Virginia has created intense opposition from a powerful coalition of residents, conservationists and politicians who have repeatedly fought development in the area.
Opposition to the line is being led by the Piedmont Environmental Council, which held a “Don’t Get Taken by Dominion” public meeting last night in Marshall. The council argues that Dominion’s real goal is to bring cheaper Midwestern power to the eastern grid, not to serve its customers. They say that no route is a good route and that Dominion should instead focus on reducing demand for electricity.
“We’re urging folks not to fall into the trap of saying, ‘Put it here, not here,’ ” said Robert W. Lazaro Jr., spokesman for the council. “We do not believe this line is necessary at all.”
The power company released a map yesterday showing a handful of potential routes, extending from the Meadow Brook substation in Frederick County, Va., to a Loudoun substation south of Dulles International Airport, all of which roughly follow the Interstate 66 corridor in Fauquier and Prince William counties.
In the next few months, the company will choose a single, preferred route to submit with its application to the State Corporation Commission. If approved, the power line cables will be installed atop a series of 15-story steel lattice towers along a 150-foot-wide strip of land cleared of trees and buildings.
In or near the proposed routes are Thoroughfare Gap, a main passageway during the Civil War and the site of a battle that killed 100 soldiers; two of former chief justice John Marshall’s homes; and the quaint villages of Markham and Ashville. They also run through acres of private property, which Dominion might take through eminent domain.
The proposed paths bypass most areas permanently protected from development through conservation easements. But much of the region is unspoiled even if it does not enjoy the protection of conservation easements, said Harry Atherton (I-Marshall), vice chairman of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors.
Fauquier has taken pains to keep development out of its borders, he said. Moreover, he added, the county relies heavily on tourism, an industry that would be threatened by the introduction of unsightly towers along I-66, the primary approach to the county.
“We’ve often said if George Washington came back to Mount Bleak in Sky Meadows State Park, he would still recognize it,” he said. “That is by intent, not by accident.”
Dominion is holding community meetings beginning tonight in Middleburg, at which residents can offer their input on the proposed routes and fill out a questionnaire. Residents will be asked, for instance, whether historical or natural areas are more of a priority and whether any routes are preferable to others. They also will be asked to point out relevant features Dominion might not have taken into consideration, such as private airports, homes under construction and cemeteries.
Detailed maps of the proposed routes can be viewed on Dominion’s Web site at http://www.dom.com.
By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
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