Residents outline ‘least objectionable’ power line routes

Residents outline ‘least objectionable’ power line routes

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Residents tasked with scrutinizing Dominion Virginia Power’s proposal to run a 230-kilovolt transmission line through Alexandria tentatively named routes that the community can live with last month.

But it came as the utility delayed plans to seek state approval for the project. Dominion, which has unveiled nine possible routes — most running through the Port City — for the line, rescheduled its pitch from this month to January. The utility cited an upcoming report from regional grid operator PJM for the holdup.

While the report could affect Dominion’s timeline, it will not change the necessity of the project, said spokesman Chuck Penn.

“The need is still there,” he said. “The [report] may just impact whether the [grid] overloads will come in 2018 or 2019, and the new data will tell us that.”

Members of the city-appointed, resident-led work group debated last month whether the group’s recommendations to Alexandria’s top brass should be pragmatic or idealistic. Without any details about what each route would mean in terms of construction and neighborhood disruptions, the city must reserve the right to oppose alignments they consider preferable if new information comes to light, member said.

They struggled reconciling what seemingly was most beneficial for Dominion while also proving acceptable to City Hall and area residents.

“I suggest we take the Four Mile Run/Potomac River option off the table,” said Rick Cooper at one point, referring to an underwater route disparaged by Dominion officials. It’s one many officials might prefer.

“I say that partly because we have an alternative that does not use the river as much and could be considered [as viable by Dominion],” Cooper argued.

“The routes [described as] most practical are most practical for Dominion and their construction,” shot back Judy Noritake. “But they’re not the best alternatives for our community, and it’s incumbent on us to do what’s best for our community.

“‘Practical’ is not my consideration. It’s just not.”

Noritake argued that choosing to support what the group labeled as “Tier 2”—routes with significant, but tolerable, consequences for residents and businesses — will allow the utility to run roughshod over the city.

“If we choose one from ‘Tier 2,’ we can do that, but I really want to focus on ‘Tier 1,’” she said. “‘Tier 2’ is a Sophie’s Choice: Basically, which child do you want to give up?”

The group sided with Noritake, eventually selecting the following routes as being least objectionable: along the CSX tracks, along the Metro tracks, the George Washington Parkway and the underwater route. In a distant fourth place — as members described it — was the Potomac Avenue route.

Much of the group’s deliberation was over which of these “Tier 2” routes would be most preferable. Members quickly decided that routes along Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road must be considered off the table, as well as a route along Main Line Boulevard.

But they debated at length over whether to include Potomac Avenue or U.S. Route 1 as among the less objectionable routes.

“In one sense, to me, Route 1 is almost the easiest, aesthetics-wise,” said one member. “It would be one of the toughest in terms of traffic on an immediate basis, but on a long-term basis it could be one of the easiest ones. There’s no obvious landscaping impact and there’s no long-term impact on the businesses there as I appreciate it.”

But others balked at the idea, citing numerous repercussions, including damage to the recently completed first phase of the $22 million Metroway to Crystal City as well as a desire to add landscaping once work is complete along the highway, which could be prohibited by the utility’s actions.

“That is a major route into the city, and we have worked to make it more beautiful and we should continue to do so,” Noritake said. “Just because it has not been for a long time, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the long-term impacts on that right of way.”

In the end, the group chose Potomac Avenue as less problematic for residents than U.S. Route 1, because — while both roads could suffer similar long-term restrictions on development as a result of Dominion’s easement — the Potomac Avenue route would cause far fewer traffic disruptions.

The work group was prepared to finalize its recommendations to city council this week, but with the delay by Dominion, it has postponed until November 20. An agenda was not available by press time.

City Councilor Paul Smedberg was cautiously optimistic that the delay would allow for a more thorough review of the utility’s proposed routes.

“If it allows for more time and public input, and if we get more information with which to make a more intelligent decision, that would be a good thing,” he said.