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Power Companies' Reach May Expand

But opponents of the power line proposed for Northern Virginia are alarmed. They say that Bodman's plan threatens open space, private property and historical sites that could be ruined with the introduction of cables and steel towers.

Dominion officials say the line, which would wind through Rappahannock, Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties, is necessary to avoid blackouts in Northern Virginia in the next five years.

For now, Dominion has backed away from a more controversial proposal that would have cut through some Civil War and environmentally sensitive sites. Instead, power company officials said, the line would wind along existing power line corridors in those areas, a plan that still does not please critics.

Company officials said they hope to gain swift approval from the Virginia State Corporation Commission and complete the project by 2011.

"We've determined the best avenue for us to take is to go through the state process," Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said. "It's proven, we know that it works, and we know it's very fair."

The state has approved every power line ever proposed by Dominion, Anderson said.

Opponents of Dominion's project say they will redouble their efforts to stop it in the wake of yesterday's announcement.

Robert W. Lazaro Jr., spokesman for the slow-growth Piedmont Environmental Council, said the federal government would be less sensitive to Virginia's plight than the state.

"Now, the state -- which knows its social, natural and cultural resources better than anyone -- can be bypassed," Lazaro said. "If the SCC agrees with us and says the line is not needed, Dominion can turn around and say: 'Well, we don't like that answer. We're going to go ask someone else.' "

Another issue is eminent domain. The new label would allow power companies in "national interest" areas to have greater rights to condemn private property.

Lazaro's group says that Dominion's purpose is to serve lucrative markets in New York and New Jersey. Virginia regulators might be swayed by that argument, but it might not have much influence with national regulators, who are seeking to coordinate the grid across state lines.

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