The line would cross America’s founding waterway on at least nine towers, four of them ranging in height from 275 to 295 feet, or nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
The thought of being able to see them from the tip of Jamestown Island or along Colonial Parkway made the historical hairs on Fowler’s neck stand up.
“This incredible and important viewshed looks almost exactly like it did the day Capt. John Smith sailed up the river,” said Fowler, a retired money manager, during a morning drive along the James. “It’s been pristine for 400 years. You look at the proposal, and it’s like, What are you thinking?”
According to Dominion officials, it’s simple: The utility, which has a decades-old nuclear power plant across from Jamestown Island, needs to expand grid capacity and improve reliability in the Hampton Roads region. The company’s planners have determined that an overhead crossing downriver from Jamestown is the most sensible option.
Fowler — who loves modernity (she’s forever on her iPad) but holds early American history dear — is digging in. She has enlisted in the Save the James Alliance, a new unit in the growing army of opponents of Dominion’s proposal.
“This place is sacred,” she declared. “It’s worth fighting for.”
In this modern Battle of Williamsburg, though, there is no blood — just pronouncements, paperwork and, soon, public testimony. The commonwealth’s State Corporation Commission, which will render a decision on the proposal, is holding two hearings Wednesday at Williamsburg’s Warhill High School.
With the hearings looming, the historic area’s heavy hitters are weighing in. This month, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the College of William and Mary and Preservation Virginia issued a joint letter denouncing the plan on historic and economic grounds.
On Thursday, Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulman sent his own letter to the State Corporation Commission, saying the city “is deeply concerned over the irreparable damage to nationally and internationally significant historic and cultural resources which would result from permanently marring the viewshed along this segment of the James River.”
Put the line under the river, urged the James City County Board of Supervisors in a resolution adopted in April.
The utility says that’s not a viable option. It would be nearly impossible to submerge a 500,000-volt line in the James, it says. A pair of 230,000-volt lines might be possible, though unreliable, Dominion says, but that setup would drive up the project’s price from $60 million to at least $310 million.
“Dominion is sensitive to the concerns raised by all stakeholders and has been a longtime supporter in numerous ways to the Historic Triangle and its associated organizations,” Dominion spokesman David Botkins said in a written statement. “We also have an obligation to provide reliable electric service to our nation’s critical military facilities, businesses, and residential customers in the area. We believe this route is the shortest, least expensive and least environmentally impactful while meeting the electrical needs.”