Identical ads on the Washington Post website and print publications attack the Republican chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors over his actions involving a proposed power line that would run through communities in Gainesville and connect to a Haymarket data center.
In significantly smaller print at the bottom of the ads is a notice: “Paid for by Dominion Energy.” This is the very power company hoping to build the 230-kilovolt transmission line through western Prince William.
For the better part of three years, Dominion has tangled with county supervisors and state regulators to determine a path for the power line. Now, as the utility faces a key setback in its effort to route the line along Carver Road in Gainesville, it’s taking aim at Stewart and working to blame him for the project’s delays.
“This is like classic David versus Goliath,” Stewart said in an interview. “They obviously don’t know me very well, because I don’t give in to intimidation…I can’t believe that they’re this dumb.”
Dominion spokesman Chuck Penn would only say that “the ad speaks for itself,” and it certainly does lay out many of the company’s arguments about the whole controversy.
The company contends that the project is essential “to serve both homes and new businesses” on the county’s western end, though supervisors and local environmental advocates have long countered that the power needs of the Haymarket data center (which is owned by a subsidiary of online retail giant Amazon) is overwhelmingly driving the project.
In the ad, Dominion writes that the company “identified five options [for the power line] and preferred the ‘Railroad Route’ because it was the least impactful,” referring to a path for the power line that would have followed a set of Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks. State regulators directed the company to build the project along that line, “but Corey Stewart blocked it,” the ad reads — a local homeowners’ association donated a piece of property along the route to the county amidst concerns about the project’s impact on the area, and the board has used a conservation easement to stop the company from pursuing that option.
“Now, [Stewart’s] politics have led to the Carver Road route, which was preferred by no one but chosen by the State Corporation Commission because Corey Stewart continued to block other options,” the company wrote. “The residents of Carver Road should look no further than Corey Stewart for the reason why their community was selected.”
People living along Carver Road have made their voices heard about the project in recent weeks, forming an advocacy group to decry Dominion’s attempts to route the line through the historically black community. But they aren’t exactly taking the company’s critiques of Stewart at face value.
“They’re responsible for identifying the Carver route in the first place, plain and simple,” said Joyce Hudson, a spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Carver Road. “They’re on their heels, and it just shows that they are desperate to blame anyone else besides themselves.”
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, agrees that Dominion is simply “using ratepayer money to fund a PR project,” as “they look bad because they’re prioritizing one company [Amazon] above all those folks who live on all these routes.” He notes that the entire county board has been adamant from the project’s earliest days that a “hybrid route,” which would partially bury the line along Interstate 66, is the only acceptable alternative.
Considering that Candland and several of his colleagues have clashed with Stewart over a host of issues in recent months, it’s no small feat that the project has so thoroughly unified the supervisors. Yet Dominion only chose to call out Stewart by name in the ad, which Candland believes was transparently an effort to capitalize on the chairman’s recent surge in media attention.
“They know that I have statewide aspirations, and I’ve got the biggest profile on the board, obviously,” Stewart said, referring to his current bid for U.S. Senate and past candidacy for governor. “They’re thinking that I’m going to back down because this may hurt my reputation across the state when, in fact, it helps it. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but they’re not thinking clearly.”
Stewart believes Dominion is “trying to hold a historically black community hostage” and declining to “mention there is an alternative, which is just fine with the community and with the board,” referring to the “hybrid route.”
The company also fails to mention in the ad that its very pursuit of the Carver Route is in serious trouble — the company recently discovered that the county controls a variety of properties along the route, which it could use to block the project, and successfully sought a two-month delay to state regulatory proceedings as it tries to negotiate with supervisors.
But the board has remained unwilling to budge on its preference for the hybrid option, leaving Dominion a bit stuck. Regulators estimate that the county’s preferred plan would cost the utility an extra $100 million compared to other routes, which could force Dominion to increase electricity bills statewide, yet supervisors aren’t interested in helping the company save money.
“They already know our stance, so there’s not much negotiating to do,” Candland said. “For them to act like [the hybrid route] is not on the table really shows they’re putting their profits above that of the impacts to the ratepayers.”
Print advertising may not be quite as pricey as it once was, but Stewart is similarly puzzled by the company’s recent spending decisions.
“I wonder how much this all costs?” Stewart said. “If they have enough money to waste on this to try to intimidate a local official into bending and selling out a community I’ve pledged to protect, that’s fine, but it’s not going to work.”