The fight over America’s founding waterway has a new combatant: the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which added the James River to its list of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places on Wednesday, citing a transmission-line proposal that “would compromise the scenic integrity of this historic area.”
Dominion Virginia Power wants to run a 500,000-volt power line across the same stretch of river that some of the first English settlers navigated in 1607 before landing at Jamestown. The utility’s proposed project, which is under consideration by the commonwealth’s State Corporation Commission, has been opposed by preservationists and heavy hitters such as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the College of William and Mary.
By designating the James as a threatened treasure, the National Trust for Historic Preservation hopes to amplify the controversy — and, ultimately, compel Dominion to come up with another proposal.
“This isn’t purely a local issue; it has national implications because of the incredible importance of the site and the nature of the threat,” said Tom Mayes, the nonprofit group’s deputy general counsel. Dominion’s plan, he said, “seems to me to be an entirely avoidable result. We hope we’ll move them off that position.”
The proposed line would cross the James 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. Preservationists say they would be visible from the tip of Jamestown Island and along the historic Colonial Parkway.
Dominion has said it needs to expand grid capacity and improve reliability in the region; its planners determined that an overhead line crossing downriver from Jamestown is the most sensible option.
“Dominion is sensitive to historic and environmental concerns,” Scot Hathaway, the utility’s vice president of transmission, said in a written statement. “We have recommended a route that is the least impactful and the most economical. Our customers want a reliable, responsible and reasonable solution to meet their electricity needs.”
Hathaway added that the utility “thoroughly investigated all viable alternatives, and only our proposal solves all the problems in a timely manner associated with providing reliable power to the North Hampton Roads region.”
A hearing examiner is expected to deliver an official recommendation to the State Corporation Commission in the fall.