We must soon make a choice for which future generations of Virginians and Americans will forever hold us responsible. Dominion Virginia Power plans to construct 44 massive electric transmission towers across and near the historic James River within close sight of Jamestown Island, the first permanent English settlement in the New World and arguably one of our nation’s most historically significant places.
This thoughtless plan would negatively affect not only Jamestown Island but also the much-admired Colonial Parkway and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. This wanton act of vandalism must not happen for the sake of this generation and succeeding generations. The Army Corps of Engineers is mulling the question at this moment.
This is personal for me. I write as a direct descendant of one of the early émigrés to Jamestown: Lt. Col. Walter Chiles (1609-1653). Chiles was a merchant and served in the House of Burgesses and on the royal governor’s council. But in a larger sense, I write on behalf of all Americans, whether they arrived in Virginia in the 17th century, arrived unwillingly from Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries or arrived yesterday from Syria, Nicaragua or India. We are a nation of immigrants, and Jamestown was the beginning of the American immigration story. The Jamestown story is all of our stories.
Jamestown Island is a national historical park, a unit of America’s “best idea,” as American author Wallace Stegner called the national park system. Regrettably, many of our national parks are under threat from unsympathetic development on their borders, climate change and chronic underfunding. We must not permit Jamestown to join these ranks.
Today, Jamestown Island’s historic setting remains virtually unchanged since the 17th century. Colonial National Historical Park’s millions of visitors each year can stand on the island and see the identical view those brave men and women saw more than 400 years ago. This must be preserved for generations yet to come and not marred with 44 transmission towers — some as tall as the Statue of Liberty — covered in blinking lights.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering this misbegotten idea and will soon decide whether to provide the permit needed for Dominion Virginia to proceed. We all recognize and respect the need to meet increased demand and to provide more cost-effective electricity for our fellow citizens. But this must not be done at so egregious a cost to one of our nation’s most significant and precious historic places. Credible industry experts have identified reasonable alternatives, including burying the lines under the river or adding capacity to other transmission line corridors, but Dominion summarily rejects these alternatives. The Corps must require Dominion to explore these by undertaking the federal environmental impact statement process, which requires a full review of the project’s effects and any reasonable alternatives.
To date, thousands of citizens and federal and state agencies, local governments and nonprofit organizations have voiced opposition to this project. There are other ways to solve the commonwealth’s and the nation’s energy challenges. The Army Corps of Engineers and Dominion have a higher responsibility to the nation, to our history and to future generations.
The Old Dominion deserves better from Dominion Virginia Power.
Pat Tiller, who retired in 2005 after 30 years with the National Park Service, is a lecturer on historic preservation at George Washington University.