Competing viewpoints on power lines

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 28, 2007

SUFFOLK—A public hearing Thursday on power lines turned into a bit of a clash between the haves and the have-nots.

Those who already have high-voltage power lines crossing their properties called for a shared sacrifice that would avoid further encroachment on their own land by new power lines.

Those who do not have power lines asked to be spared the intrusion into — as Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson put it — &uot;the open, scenic and pristine nature&uot; of their land.

High-voltage lines already cross both Southampton and Isle of Wight. But representatives from both counties strongly expressed their official preference that a proposed new 500,000-volt electric transmission line be run roughly parallel to the existing ones that cross the northern parts of those counties.

Reading from a resolution in support of the so-called &uot;proposed route&uot; put forward by Dominion Virginia Power, Johnson said,

&uot;The proposed route utilizes generally accepted good routing practice by reducing the need for additional right-of-way acquisition, minimizes the overall impacts to natural and human environments by requiring less clearing of woodlands and minimizes the visual and aesthetic impacts upon the Southampton County landscape.&uot;

Similarly, an Isle of Wight official called the area north of Windsor, where existing 115,000-volt transmission lines now cross, &uot;an aesthetic mess, anyway,&uot; asking that the &uot;almost pristine, beautiful&uot; southern portion of the county be spared the blight of power lines and 120-foot steel towers.

He also pointed out that the proposed route would require the smallest number of easements and condemnations, since it would piggyback on existing easements used by the 115,000-volt line for most of its length.

The alternate route for the new power lines, which would run from an existing Dominion substation in Dinwiddie County to another existing substation in Suffolk, would take a more southerly route, cutting a new 150-foot wide path through largely undeveloped areas of Dinwiddie, Prince George, Sussex, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties before joining up with the existing electrical grid in Suffolk.

Cindy Raiford of Graz’n Acres Therapeutic Riding Center near Sedley told a hearing examiner from the State Corporation Commission that the alternate route would have a detrimental effect on the non-profit organization’s work, as power lines would limit its ability to expand.

Mandy Rogers, a Windsor-area resident, said that she and her husband are concerned about their ability to subdivide and sell their land if the alternate route through their property is chosen.

Noting that they have about $1 million invested into the land and their work to transform it into a subdivision, she said the power lines’ &uot;impact on us would be devastating.&uot;

Not all present at the hearing were in favor of the proposed route, though.

Members of one family from the Myrtle area of Suffolk complained that they had been asked to sacrifice for power lines twice already and said someone else should forfeit the full use of their property for any new lines.

Orville White and two of his grown children, Gerald White and Deborah Vaughan, all pleaded with the commission to require Dominion to reroute the power lines so they would miss Orville White’s Myrtle farm.

&uot;You are taking land from people who don’t want it taken,&uot; Gerald White said.

His sister, Deborah Vaughan, lives in North Carolina but stands one day to inherit a portion of the land their father now farms — &uot;the side with the power lines,&uot; she said Thursday.

She told SCC representatives that she is especially wary of the government recently, as her property in North Carolina is also at risk, because of a proposed Navy Outlying Landing Field.

She also said she considers it unlikely this request for a third set of power lines will be Dominion’s last.

&uot;If a third power line comes, I know that in less than 20 years there’ll be a fourth one,&uot; she said. &uot;It seems very unfair that we are asking the same ones to give up over and over again.&uot;

The SCC’s approval is necessary for Dominion to begin work on the project, which the company says is necessary in order to ensure the long-term reliability of electric service for Hampton Roads and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Current studies, according to the company, indicate that customers may begin to suffer disruptions of their electric service by the summer of 2011 without the $224 million worth of upgrades the company seeks.

A final public hearing on the matter is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 5 in the commission’s second-floor courtroom in the Tyler Building in Richmond. An SCC examiner told participants that he would be visiting potentially impacted properties prior to that date.