Leesburg Power Line Tower A Neighbor Nobody Wants

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last spring, Dominion Virginia Power officials contacted Kim Graff to ask whether they could gain access to her property to install a steel pole more than 100 feet high behind her Leesburg neighborhood. The pole would be part of the transmission line they were building from Leesburg to Hamilton, they said.

Graff said she wasn't pleased to learn of plans to put a tower in her community. But she did not rule out the company's request. "We talked about me giving them an easement along the back of my property," she said.

In late summer, Graff got another unwelcome surprise: Dominion no longer needed her cooperation. In July, the company had bought her next-door neighbor's three-bedroom house on Wage Drive at the end of a cul-de-sac. The purchase price of $695,000 was significantly more than the homeowner's recent tax assessment of $511,000, according to Loudoun County records.

"I had no idea that they were doing any negotiations with them," she said of her neighbors. "I wasn't happy about it."

Now the Leesburg Town Council has taken up the residents' cause, saying that the pole will be an eyesore that will lower homeowners' property values. "There will be no way of hiding it," Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said. "It will be the one thing dominating that neighborhood."

Dominion plans to hold a public meeting this month with residents from Wage Drive and a nearby street to discuss their concerns.

Last week, the council sent letters to state and congressional leaders saying that Dominion had not kept the community informed about its plans. In a letter to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), the council urged him to ask Dominion to find an alternative site for the pole.

Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said that the exact location of the tower had not been determined and that the utility was open to suggestions. But she said the pole, one of many that will carry the 230,000-volt line, must be built within a state Department of Transportation easement that runs along the Route 7 Bypass, which backs up to Wage Drive.

"We are working with some of the neighbors there and the town to try to address some of their concerns and put the pole as far away from the homes as possible," she said.

Anderson said that after visiting Graff's home, Dominion officials realized that her property would not provide the access they needed and that her neighbor's property was better situated. Dominion gave the neighbor the option of selling the home or granting an easement. When the homeowner chose to sell, Dominion negotiated a price that took into account "the inconvenience that it would cause to the family because it was an unplanned sale," Anderson said.

Dominion has not decided on the design of the pole, but Anderson said that they are typically 120 feet high.

Wage Drive residents, whose street is tucked off Dry Mill Road near Loudoun County High School, said they're afraid the structure will ruin the appearance of their community. "You're not going to see our pretty homes. You're just going to see this big tower," Graff said.

"I think it's horrible," said Larry Belote, who lives a few houses down from Graff. "I don't want to come home and see a tower at the end of my street."

Terry Titus, who has lived on Wage Drive for 40 years, said the pole will drive down his real estate value. "I think if I want to sell my house, it's got an indirect effect on my value, having that darn thing sitting down there," he said. "It's very obtrusive."

Titus suggested that Dominion install the pole behind a church near the neighborhood, which would still be within the VDOT easement. "Let's take the path that hurts the people the least," he said.

However, Anderson said, Dominion has to be careful not to "veer too far" from the route the State Corporation Commission ordered when it approved the transmission line in February.

The 12-mile line has long been opposed by the Leesburg Town Council and land preservation activists. Under an agreement that Dominion reached with state lawmakers, the company will build a 1.8-mile segment of the line underground, on a portion of the route that runs along the W&OD Trail.

Dominion has said it needs to build the transmission line to keep up with population growth in western Loudoun. Parts of Purcellville and Hamilton have experienced power outages, and "the best fix to the reliability problems they're facing is to get this transmission line built," Anderson said. "We need to move as quickly as possible." Dominion expects the power line to be in service by spring 2010.

Graff said that she is resigned to the tower and that her worries have shifted to the noise she'll hear from traffic on the Route 7 Bypass when adjacent land is cleared for the power line. "I'll hear it a lot more once there's no trees there to buffer it out," she said.

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