By: Terri L. Erwin-Fitz
Heavy rains and tornado warnings did not keep concerned citizens away from the State Corporation Commission’s local hearings on Dominion Power’s Haymarket 230kV and Substation project. The first hearing began at 4:30 p.m. and rolled over into the 7 p.m. session.
Glenn Richards(on), a retired hearing examiner who heard cases for approximately 30 years, was called back by the SCC and is presiding over the case.
As the 7 p.m. time rolled around, Richards(on) announced that over 40 citizens had testified at the hearing with many more waiting to be heard that evening. There were several times, however, when Richards(on) called the names of citizens who signed up to testify and no one appeared. Presumably, they had left due to the length of time taken to get to them.
About 7 p.m. Richards(on) acknowledged that he did not have anyone ready to testify. After many residents raised questions as they saw many people signing up to testify, Richards(on) took the hearing “off the record.”
He took a brief recess to locate the “pink papers” where citizens had signed up to testify, which he learned the bailiff was holding until the 7 p.m. hearing.
After calling the hearing back to order, he assured those present that the SCC would be “fair and unbiased” in its ruling on the project. He cited his 30 years as a hearing examiner and adamantly argued that he would hear all those who wanted to testify and that there was absolutely no prejudice. The case would be decided after all testimony was heard on the project.
Chuck Penn, media relations manager with Dominion Power, was at the hearings and maintained it is Dominion’s goal to maintain minimal impact on the neighbors, residences, business and environment while bringing service to their clients. Again, Penn reminded all that the company has an obligation to serve.
At 6:30 p.m., Elena Schlossberg, from the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, along with Ken Aitchison, president, Heritage Hunt HOA; Dan Glicoes, president, Parks at Piedmont HOA; Mac Haddow, president, Western Prince William HOA Alliance; Steve Aitken, with the Town of Haymarket; Jim Napoli, president, Somerset Crossing HOA; and Karen Sheehan, secretary, Rose Hill Estates Owners Association, held a press conference, voicing their concerns and their preferences for the project.
Schlossberg adhered to the “route I-66 and buried” route, adding that the presumable client, Amazon, should pay for the project due to locating in an area where there is no infrastructure for the data center. She added that large unsightly towers will ruin property values.
Aitken, with the Town of Haymarket, referenced the history of the town which has already seen a height change in the poles throughout the picturesque townscape. He said no progress has to happen, but the town residents believe the best option is the I-66 hybrid option.
Sheehan, of Rose Hill Estates, relied on the “rural crescent” argument, which many people came to Prince William County seeking, as a way of protecting the rural landscape. She knows that NoVa is a “hotspot” for data centers but said that this is not a high tech corridor, citing that the data center will only be home to five to 10 employees and will not bring tax dollars or jobs to the county.
Haddow questioned Amazon’s placement of the data center, citing Innovation Park, which is a mere “six miles down the road.” The park has the infrastructure in place for data centers.
Those who testified in the hearing included James Arouse, of Gainesville, who was for the I-66 alternative proposed by Dominion until he heard how it would affect others. He then implored Richards(on) to consider forcing the data center placement at Innovation Park.
Meagan O’Brien of Somerset Crossing also testified; she lives near one of the alternate routes. She fears 100-foot wires will impact the beauty of their community and do permanent damage to their property values. She asked that Richards(on) consider the I-66 hybrid route and force Amazon to pay for the placement of the infrastructure.
Lisa Fisher of Haymarket testified and raised the issue of the fear of health impacts and implored the SCC to “serve and protect” the citizens with emphasis to “protect us.” She cited impacts that included childhood lymphoma and brain cancer from living under power lines.
Jeff Bergman, of Crossroads Village, testified that his house would be about 80 feet from the 100-foot towers, giving their community an “industrial feel.”
Pete Candland, who lives in the Parks at Piedmont, disclosed as he testified that he is a representative on the board of supervisors. He raised the issue of the unfairness of the rise in utility rates that residents will see on their bills due to the construction of the project that puts the cost on the backs of the citizens.
He added that the I-66 hybrid route would help protect the “rural character” of the area and referred to Innovation Park as an “excellent location” with the necessary infrastructure for a data center. Candland adhered to his initial statement of “not in our backyard” and “not in our back pocket.”
The next SCC hearing will be held on March 14 at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Battlefield High School’s auditorium located at 15000 Graduation Drive in Haymarket.
A third hearing will be held on May 2 at 7 p.m. at Battlefield High School.
For more information on the project, residents can view https://www.dom.com/corporate/what-we-do/electricity/transmission-lines-and-projects/haymarket-230kv-line-and-substation-project.
To make written comments directly to the SCC, residents can visit https://scc.lvirginia.gov/case/PublicComments.aspx and scroll down to “PUE-2015-00107.”