Residents question Dominion power line plans

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Residents question Dominion power line plans
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By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Dominion Virginia Power officials still refuse to say where they would prefer to run a 230-kilovolt transmission line through Alexandria, but one offered a guess last week.

“If there was a preliminary route, it would be [U.S.] Route 1,” said spokesman Chuck Penn.

Many residents got their first look at the utility’s plan to run a power line the Glebe Road substation to Pepco’s substation along Slater’s Lane at an open house last week, but the company’s presentation — like those that preceded it — raised more questions than it answered.

In an interview before the meeting, Dominion spokeswoman Tiffany Taylor-Minor said the utility never settled on a preferred route before meeting with city councilors in June.

“Dominion had not gotten to the point of validating any routes,” she said. “The city’s planning department had put together some routes, which they circulated to council members to review.

“So since that point we continued to study impacts and corridors that could effectively get us from Glebe to the Potomac River, and that’s how we got to the nine [proposed routes].”

In addition to Jefferson Davis Highway, the utility is considering putting the power line through the Mount Jefferson Park Trail, Commonwealth Avenue, East Glebe Road, Main Line Boulevard, the CSX and Metro tracks, George Washington Parkway and even underwater along Four Mile Run and the Potomac River.

As people perused posters outlining the project’s necessity and possible routes, many came up with questions similar to those posed by city councilors and members of a resident-led work group devoted to the project.

“I haven’t gotten any answers; I just don’t know why this wasn’t done before all of the development,” said Bryan Plawecki, who recently moved into a home at Potomac Yard. “They knew there’d be this development 15 years ago, but only now do they need this line. It’s like it just popped out of nowhere.”

David Pachter agreed the utility “probably” needs the new line to comply with regulatory fail-safe rules for its grid, but noted every route will create unique problems.

“Above ground will probably be a non-starter, but most underground routes would also create problems,” he said. “And some others will create ecological complaints. It’s a political football, but the question is not whether it should happen, but how.”

City Councilor Paul Smedberg, who has attended all of Dominion’s presentations both at City Hall and before the council’s work group, said he appreciated the utility’s outreach to residents, but took a jaded view of the proceedings.

“There’s nothing really new, and the officials seem to have ‘pat’ answers for just about everything,” he said. “[Regardless of the nine routes], if they want everything done cheap and fast, all that kind of stuff, that probably means they want Route 1.”

A portion of the proposed route runs along a section of Route 1 already in the midst of redevelopment. City officials recently celebrated the start of Metroway, the region’s first bus route with dedicated lanes, which runs along the major artery near Potomac Yard.

“I’m trying to imagine what kind of disruption that would cause down the street, interrupting that kind of traffic. It would be horrible,” Smedberg said.

Resident David Fromm said he thought putting the line under the Mount Jefferson Park Trail could have spurred a major restoration effort for the park, until he found out about the 30-foot easement preventing construction or tree planting around the proposed power line. Now he prefers the CSX/Metro routes, but said the project wouldn’t be nearly as controversial if Dominion had come to the city earlier.

“It’s a shame they weren’t here two years earlier,” he said. “They could have done it with the [U.S. Route 1] repaving and no one would have noticed. Really, there’s only so much pain we can endure because of their bad planning.”

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