By Terri Erwin-Fitz
In an email to the Bull Run Observer, Greg Mathe, with Dominion Power, announced that on “November 15, 2016, the Virginia State Corporation Commission hearing examiner issued his final report and recommendations on the Haymarket Electric Transmission case.”
The hearing examiner recommended the Carver Road alternative route be used for the project as he suggested it minimizes impact and recommended that the SCC issue Dominion Power a “certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct and operate the Haymarket project.”
Elena Schlossberg, executive director of Coalition to Protect Prince William County, said its attorney sent the ruling to them as soon as he received it. Although the ruling did not come as a surprise to Schlossberg, she said it was unexpected.
The recommended route by Dominion Power for the project was the I-66 overhead route, while the coalition and the rest of the community advocated for the lines to run along I-66 and to be buried. In addition, many speakers from the community appealed to the hearing examiner to have Amazon pay for the lines since they asserted that the lines would be built primarily to run power to the data center in Haymarket.
Schlossberg said that the Carver Road alternative has not been “properly vetted” as there are many issues with the environment along that route as well as two elementary schools, Buckland Mills and Haymarket, as well as the Somerset Community that will be affected.
Glenn Richardson, the same SCC hearing examiner who heard the communities’ testimonies during the local hearings, made the ruling which will now go in front of the three SCC commissioners after respondents submit their legal briefs by Dec. 5.
Schlossberg said that the coalition is a respondent; however, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is not a respondent.
Schlossberg was “disgusted” that the hearing examiner would “drop this bomb” only days before the Thanksgiving break, giving respondents only 21 days to respond. She added it puts the community at a disadvantage as the coalition is full of volunteers.
Karen Sheehan, with the coalition, agreed that it “feels intentionally timed.”
Schlossberg has spent the last few years of holidays dealing with “energy monopolies” and “big business” and said that it is unfair to the community.
In addition, she said Richardson belittled the coalition and the thousands of people who attended meetings with his ruling. She said she was appalled that he would have the “audacity to dismiss everyone in the community.”
Schlossberg said the ruling stated that he made it because the idea of treating a transmission line as a distribution line had never been done before.
Schlossberg asserted that Dominion’s representative stated under oath that 97 percent of the power that the lines provided would be for the data center being built by Amazon in Haymarket.
In an email blast, Schlossberg told the community that the I-66 and buried route received bipartisan support from local politicians and professional staff including Chris Price, county planning director, and Robert Weir, former member of the Haymarket planning commission.
She asserted that the Richardson “even ignored Dominion” that “argued against Carver Road because it costs $10 million more than the cheapest route.”
She said that Richardson did the homework for the utility by “recommending a high-voltage above ground transmission line through residential neighborhoods including the Villages of Piedmont, Somerset Crossing, Somerhill Farms, Hopewells Landing, Haymarket Overlook, and Kennard Ridge, plus Haymarket and Buckland Mills elementary schools, as well as extensive wetlands.
Schlossberg also cited that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has never addressed the community as the “billionaire” goes on his “merry way” while the community costs for transmission to the data center is on the backs of the rate payers.
On its website, the coalition estimates that the Carver Road route “could destroy residential property values in affected communities such as Somerville Crossing, Hopewells Landing, and Carver Road anywhere from $3.3 million to $6.0 million,” asserting that these estimates are conservative and omit businesses, apartments, and unimproved property.
Schlossberg said that this is about the legacy we leave behind and the quality of life we leave for generations, not just for this county, but for the state and nation. Seeing this county covered with “power lines and concrete” will happen over her “dead body,” she asserted. She added it is important to have a hard wall to protect what makes this community viable, not just strip malls and power lines.
Dulaney Washington, who was born and raised in the Thoroughfare area and is currently the assistant pastor at Oakrum Baptist Church, said that the Carver Road (alternative) will directly impact the history of the area.
His family has a long history of living in that area. His mother and cousin still live here. It was family home to his grandparents and other ancestors who lived there, going back to he 1700s. He said the area’s population was mainly a mixture of freed slaves and Native Americans. The church was founded in 1865.
Washington recalls the area being open country where the youngsters could run in the fields and everyone got along. He loved growing up there and playing with his cousins in the open fields. They were farmers. They walked to church every Sunday.
He said there was a depot at the train stop; there were signs that indicated places and things that were for “whites” or “colored.” Washington said those signs didn’t matter. People helped one another regardless of race.
Although Washington has no problem with progress, he believes that this ruling will take away that history. He said when the aesthetics are changed, they wipe that history away. He asserted, “We do not know where we are going unless we know where we have been.” This could be the loss of their heritage, he emphasized.
This ruling could mean that part of the church land is taken or that there is a tower close to it. He is concerned about the safety of those who live close, those who attend the church, and children who play outside in the area as he doesn’t believe there has been enough testing to know if being so close to the lines causes illness.
He believes the decision doesn’t make sense since there are other alternatives that will not be as disruptive to people’s lives, indicating that they went with the cheap alternative instead of paying attention and caring about the people who live there.
He is disappointed in the decision and said, “We cannot forget about people in the name of progress. They should be able to carry on traditions of love and family.”
This is not the final fight, said Schlossberg; the coalition will be a respondent before the final three commissioners review the ruling and will take the fight even further, if necessary. She appeals to the community to write to the commissioners at the SCC. She also advocated writing to the board of supervisors who can deny the substation if the lines are not buried.
She added that the coalition is made up of everyday people, not wealthy people, who have been volunteering their time and financial backing for attorneys to fight for the I-66 and buried route. She said that financial contributions are accepted on its website at http://www.protectpwc.org/. The coalition, she asserted, is the only respondent that is protecting the interests of the whole community.