It is easy to view Alexandria’s government as an overly powerful entity that controls too much of our lives. After all, in addition to enforcing laws about big things like murder, assault and robbery, our city also sees fit to tell residents how long they can leave their cars parked in front of their homes (three days) and how many cats they may own (a maximum of four).
Residents often complain that city officials make their minds up in advance on proposed development projects and hold public hearings that are merely window dressing rather than for genuine debate. The saying “you can’t fight city hall” exists for a reason.
Occasionally, though, the tables are turned. The City of Alexandria now finds itself beholden to the seemingly arbitrary will of an independent actor: Dominion Virginia Power.
In June, Dominion informed City Hall of its plans to construct a power substation at the old GenOn plant site in North Old Town. This will be attached to another station in Arlington by running a new, major transmission line in or around Alexandria.
There are nine potential routes this transmission line might take. Most cut through the Port City.
And Dominion doesn’t need the City of Alexandria’s approval as to the “whether” or the “where” of its decision.
In an ironic twist, City Councilor Paul Smedberg this week complained that Dominion’s meetings with Alexandria officials and residents consisted of “pat answers” and that the utility seems prepared to act on what is fastest and cheapest.
It’s not so fun to be on the receiving end of political arrogance.
While it’s tempting to simply view this as city officials getting an overdue taste of their own medicine, Dominion’s decision unfortunately will disrupt the lives of many Alexandrians.
Dominion officials have hinted that they may choose U.S. Route 1 as the easiest place under which to lay the underground line. Residents living near Route 1 and the Monroe Street bridge already have endured several years of construction and traffic delays, and — just as the Metro bus lanes are being finished — it may all be dug up again.
The power line’s location should be known soon, as Dominion has said they plan to submit their proposal to the State Corporation Commission next month.
Alexandria officials will have the ability to weigh in before the Commission, but their recommendations do not have to be heeded — just as Alexandria City Council does not have to heed the concerns of residents affected by development projects in the city.
As with most council-approved development in Alexandria, Dominion’s decision will almost certainly be driven by money concerns, rather than what is least disruptive.