A State Corporation Commission hearing examiner last week recommended approval of Virginia Power's plans to build a switching station on a 95-acre site near Clifton. The recommendation will be forwarded to the SCC's three commissioners, who may decide the case this fall.

Virginia Power last year requested permission to build the substation just west of Clifton on company-owned land. If built, the facility would include nearly seven miles of power lines running between Clifton and Prince William County.

Power company officials say the substation is needed to keep pace with Northern Virginia's growth. But last year, a citizens group, known as the Clifton/Occoquan Preservation Society, and the Town of Clifton began fighting the proposal.

Opponents say they are concerned about the environmental effects of the substation on the Occoquan watershed, and they have raised health concerns about electromagnetic fields.

Clifton Mayor Wayne Nickum said he was disappointed by the hearing examiner's ruling, but vowed to contact the nearby citizens group to keep up the fight.

"Obviously, the town doesn't like it, but it's in their hands," Nickum said, referring to the state commission. "I believe both parties have an opportunity to respond."

In his recommendation to the commission, senior hearing examiner Russell W. Cunningham Sr. said area power transmission and distribution facilities have been stretched to their limits and that there is a "dire need" for the substation if area homes and businesses are to have adequate power.

He added that studies on electromagnetic fields lacked "definitive answers" on whether such facilities pose health hazards.