Judge Strikes Down Bids to Stop Power Line Projects

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge tossed a pair of lawsuits on Wednesday that sought to block the extension of miles of power lines in coastal Virginia.

The three-part project, known as the Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton Project, involves the construction of transmission lines along the Virginia coast from an area just outside of Richmond south to Newport News. In addition, power flowing between the two locations would be connected to an electric switching station just south of Williamsburg.

But plaintiff’s in the two similar cases objected to the fact about 11 miles of the transmission line would cross sensitive waterways and comes too close to historic preservation sites. Despite these concerns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to the Virginia Electric and Power Company last summer to commence the project.

That prompted the lawsuits, which claimed the Corps ignored federal requirements that an environmental impact study be perform prior to the issuance of a permit. In response, the Corps said while it invited public comment on the project before it made it’s decision, and that after a preliminary review, it determined an environmental review was not required.

In September 2017, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth heard arguments on motions by the plaintiffs seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the project, but he denied both, finding the plaintiffs had failed to establish they would suffer irreparable harm prior to the cases being decided.

The plaintiffs then filed motions for summary judgment on their claims, prompting similar motions to be filed by the defendants.

On Wednesday, Lamberth sided with the Corps.

“Now that the court has dug into the administrative record and relevant case law it is evident that the Corps made a ‘fully informed and well-considered’ decision,” he wrote. “None of the significance factors weigh in favor of plaintiffs’ contention that an [impact statement] is required.”

In a statement, Bonita Harris, spokeswoman for Dominion Power, an intervenor in the case and participant in the transmission line project, said “Dominion Energy remains committed to building this urgently needed and thoroughly studied project,” she said. “Construction is going well and on track for completion by the summer of 2019.”

She said the project aims to minimize visual impact along the construction path, particularly over the contested stretches mentioned in the suit, as well as “bring cleaner, more reliable energy” to the region.

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