December 1, 2013
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Giant sturgeon that swim up the James River to spawn could play a role in whether a high-voltage power line will be built over the river near Jamestown.
The transmission line's effect on the ancient fish that once abounded in the James, sustaining the first European settlers at Jamestown, is one of the factors that will be considered before the federal government signs off on the proposed project.
The State Corporation Commission last week approved the 8-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line proposed by Dominion Virginia Power. More than half of the power line would span the river.
The state, however, does not have the final say; the Army Corps of Engineers must complete a review before Dominion receives a permit.
Preservationists fear the line would mar the vista of some of the state's most historic attractions, including Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. They are collectively known as the Historic Triangle.
The Atlantic sturgeon has been declared an endangered species by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We're looking at impacts to navigation as well as endangered species and historic resources," said Randy Steffey, an environmental scientist with the Army Corps in Virginia. The review is also looking at wetlands. Steffey couldn't say when the review would be completed.
Steffey said the corps will consult with fisheries experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in assessing any threats to the sturgeon, an armored species of fish that can approach 10 feet in length.
Sturgeon migrate through the area where transmission towers, some reaching a height of 300 feet, would be anchored in the river. The fish spawn upriver.
The primary opposition to the transmission line has come from groups concerned about historic resources in the area. The coalition of historic preservation groups contends the project would be an eyesore in the most historic section of the river.
The National Trust for Historic Places has designated the James one of America's "Most Endangered Historic Places," calling the area where the transmission line would be strung as "a portal into a remarkable chapter of American history."
The proposed power line is also opposed by Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary, among others.
The so-called Surry-Skiffes Creek project includes the overhead transmission line from a Dominion switching station in Surry County to a new switching station in James City County in the state's Tidewater region. It also would include a 230-kilovolt transmission line passing through James City and York counties and the city of Newport News, and ending in Hampton.
Dominion said it is "sensitive to historical and environmental concerns" and has worked to plot a route that would minimize its impact.
State regulators also acknowledged "the importance of this case to the many people who cherish Virginia's historical and natural assets."
Commissioners concluded, however, that "the proposed project is necessary to continue reliable electric service to the hundreds of thousands of people who live and work across this broad region of Virginia."