Inside NOVA: Activists ready to fight Amazon

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2015 9:00 am

by Jill Palermo

Opponents are gearing up for the next chapter in their now yearlong fight against a new high-voltage power line proposed for the Haymarket area they say will mostly serve just one customer — a new data center for

Elena Schlossberg, executive director of the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, says her group has raised about $30,000 and retained three attorneys to defend area residents against Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to construct the new line – dotted with 100-foot steel towers — along any of several routes the group considers unacceptable.

That includes the three new routes announced by Dominion late last month as well as earlier proposals that would have cut through about 12 miles of mostly rural countryside, skirting a winery, a new retreat for wounded warriors and several private tracts.

Schlossberg says her group is committed to making sure the new transmission line follows only one path: a route along Interstate 66 in Haymarket that Dominion calls a “hybrid route” because it would run partly below ground.

Schlossberg said her group has been reaching out to communities that appear most threatened by the five routes Dominion says it is still actively considering, including Greenhill Crossing, Somerset Crossing and the Villages of Piedmont.

But they’re also telling residents along three initial route proposals — which Dominion says are no longer being considered — to “stay vigilant.”

“Anyone on the New Road, Northern and Western routes must understand they are not safe,” Schlossberg said. “We all recognize that once you’re a line on the map, you’re a line on the map and there’s not getting away from that.”

There’s also some confusion on exactly which areas would be affected by the most recent route proposals.

Chuck Penn, a spokesman for Dominion, says the utility will have detailed maps at an informational meeting planned for this Wednesday, July 15, at Battlefield High School. The meeting will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. in the open cafeteria.

“We value the input of the community and we’ve used the previous input,” Penn said in an interview Tuesday. “We’re eager to hear what everyone has to say but recognize that not any route is going to make everyone happy.”

Penn said the community input is being gathered ahead of Dominion’s official filing of a site plan with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which will ultimately decide where the new transmission line should be located.

According to Dominion, the application is expected to be submitted to the SCC by “mid-2015” with construction slated to begin in 2016 and completed by 2018.

Opponents of the project have received broad political support over the last several months, with both state and local officials advocating for the hybrid route and conducting meetings of their own to discuss the project. The most recent, held in January, attracted about 1,000 people.

Since then, Supervisor Pete Candland, a Republican who represents the area on the Prince William Board of Supervisors, has been working to try to block the controversial data center and a new Dominion substation from their proposed locations, across from the Walmart on James Madison Highway.

Candland said the developers of the property, known as “Midwood,” have promised to drop plans to include the data center in the development. Candland said the development is primarily being proposed for “active-living” single-family housing for seniors.

Candland said he won the concession after telling Midwood’s legal team he would not support a rezoning for the project if it contained the data center. The proposal is still months away from a review by either the Prince William Planning Commission or the board of supervisors, Candland said.

Attempts to reach attorneys representing Midwood were not immediately successful this week.

Candland says he wonders whether the new transmission line is even necessary if the data center is no longer part of the development plan.

Candland said supervisors have been told which company wants to operate the data center, but says he can’t confirm it is Amazon because of a nondisclosure agreement.

“So that’s my number one question,” Candland said. “If a data center is not going to be located there, do we still need the power lines? … There has to be some justification for building this transmission line and new substation. It can’t just be that we’re going to need it in 10 or 15 years.”