by Audrey Thomasson
RICHMOND—Dominion Power’s response to a State Corporation Commission (SCC) request to explore alternative methods for the power lines crossing the Rappahannock River came as no surprise to those opposed to towers.
The company’s response, which came in the final hours before the commission’s deadline of October 31, stated that its tower plan is more cost efficient than the alternatives.
Some residents of Lancaster and Middlesex counties aren’t happy with the idea of Dominion’s proposal to build 10 towers east of the Robert O. Norris Jr. Memorial Bridge. They object to the environmental impact of towers that they say would permanently scar the pristine view of the river and hurt the area’s tourism industry.
In the filing, Dominion project manager Wesley D. Keck testified on alternatives proposed in a lawsuit filed to stop the construction of new towers by local business owner William Barnhardt.
Keck said that while Barnhardt’s first option of running overhead lines that connect to the bridge would not require new right-of-way in the river, it would require a longer route and building of a transition station.
“It does not resolve the identified need for the rebuild project and would result in violations of mandatory North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) standards…and should not be considered,” Keck testified.
Additionally, he stated the new standards for a transmission line would add nearly two million pounds of additional weight to the bridge. According to the filing, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) previously indicated that with the additional weight, they would have to lower weight restrictions to 21 tons for a single-axle vehicle, 25 tons for a multi-axle vehicle and bar the crossing of overload or permit vehicles.
Currently, the bridge has a 45-ton posted weight limit, which a loaded 18-wheel tractor-trailer can weigh.
Barnhardt’s second option of trenching an underground line would avoid direct disturbance to some existing oyster leases, Keck claimed. However, it would require seven trenches, extend the route and also require a transition station.
Keck put the costs of option one at $35 million and option two at $92.3 million. He said the costs for Dominion’s proposed 115 kV tower option is $26.2 million, which extends to $26.3 million if they go with a 230kV alternative.
“The company believes that the proposed 115 kV overhead route is the least costly and most robust solution that meets all aspects of the identified need and reasonably minimizes adverse impact to the scenic assets, historic districts and the environment of the area concerned,” Dominion wrote in its filing.
“Dominion is going to have to justify and defend these exorbitant estimates,” said Barnhardt’s attorney, Michael York. “I don’t think they can. We’re confident that both (of Barnhardt’s) options would be less costly than those hideous towers. Secondly, Dominion also ignores an important hidden cost of the towers. Because of their proposed location, it will probably cost the state untold millions when it comes to replacing the Norris bridge.”
York noted that should the bridge be replaced or widened, the proposed towers’ proximity 100 feet off the bridge plus all the fenders in the water to protect the towers from boating accidents, would be a severe handicap to large cranes brought in for any bridge work.
“That should all be included in their costs,” he said.
Dominion’s filing also revealed that the company sent a letter to VDOT on October 14, just days before their filing deadline, requesting additional information on the bridge, including replacement plans.
An SCC examiner is expected to hold a status hearing by telephone at 2 p.m. December 8 with the attorneys representing the parties involved in the case.
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