Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate army general, gained fame for his leadership in the Battle of Bull Run, forcing the Union army into the ground and eventual retreat during the Civil War.
Today, the members of the Stonewall Jackson Civic Association in North Arlington are battling the Virginia Electric and Power Co. (Vepco), which wants to send a platoon of 14 overhead transmission lines with cross arms spanning 25 feet through a mile of their shady, residential neighborhood.
The residents want to drive those proposed 230,000-volt lines into the ground.
Vepco already plans to put the rest of the two-mile project underground. The company maintains that the lines are needed to meet the growing power demand from redevelopment around the Ballston and Clarendon Metro stops.
The neighborhood association sees the project in a different light. The power poles "would be a blight on our neighborhood from an aesthetic standpoint," said Vicki Portney, a civic association member who said the lines would come within 100 feet of her N. Edison Street house. "At 105 feet, they would be the equivalent of 10-story buildings that would dominate the view," she said, and "they would lower property values without doubt."
Portney also is concerned with residential safety and health: "What if one of those poles were struck by lightning and fell?"
Vepco last month asked the State Corporation Commission (SCC), which regulates utilities in Virginia, for permission to build the $4.3 million project, which includes the two miles of lines and a new Clarendon substation, said Vepco spokesman Jim Buck. The SCC must hold a public hearing before ruling on the request, but no hearing date has yet been set.
The first mile of lines, the overhead portion, would run from Vepco's Glen Carlyn substation at S. Kensington Street and Four Mile Run Drive along the right of way the company purchased in 1968 for such lines from the defunct Washington and Old Dominion Railroad. The line would continue to the existing Avon substation near Fairfax Drive and Buchanan Street. The railroad right of way closely parallels Bluemont Drive.
From the Avon substation, the line would go underground--in ducts built years ago during street renovations--to the proposed new 230,000-volt Clarendon substation near North Nelson and North Quincy streets, Buck said.
The Clarendon-Ballston area now is served by three other substations with a capacity of 34,500 volts each.
The second mile is going underground, Buck said, only because "there was no way to put it overground" because of the impossibility of getting an overhead right of way through the densely populated area.
As currently proposed, the overhead portion would cost Vepco $1.1 million and the underground part $3.2 million, Buck said. If the first mile were to go underground, he said, it would cost an additional $1.5 million.
"Aesthetically, [the overhead area] is not going to look the same," Buck said. "Going underground would be nice, but it's going to cost more and we already have an established utility corridor there now."
The SCC, he said, requires utilities to provide the least expensive methods for their customers in order to keep costs down state-wide.
"If it didn't cost more money to [go underground], we might do it," Buck added. "But how would a farmer in Charlottesville benefit from it? How would Arlington benefit if we did it in Charlottesville? If we did it here, we'd have to do it everywhere--Tidewater, Richmond, the Southwest. It would set an expensive precedent."
Besides SCC approval, Vepco also must get a use permit from the Arlington County Board for the project, according to Dan Arnold, community programs administrator for the county's Department of Public Works. In 1974, the County Board rejected a similar Vepco proposal for overhead lines and poles through this area.
Arlington has no law requiring underground utility lines, although the county has succeeded in getting lines installed underground along its Metro corridors as each new building comes up for approval, Arnold said.
John Notarianni, president of the Stonewall Jackson Civic Association, said he expects members will lobby County Board members to get Vepco to run the first mile underground. No hearing on the use permit has been set yet.
"I realize Vepco is going to incur additional expenses," Notarianni said. "That's too bad. But the state and federal governments have just run I-66 through our neighborhood, too. Give us a break."
The association, whose members live in a jagged area bounded by Glebe Road, Washington Boulevard, Carlyn Springs Road and Bluemont Park, plans to meet with Vepco representatives next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Stonewall Jackson Elementary School.