December 7, 2020
Norfolk District, Army Corps of Engineers
803 Front Street
Norfolk, Virginia 23510-1011
Subject: CENAO-WRR NAO-2012-00080, Dominion Power Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton Transmission Line Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
Dear Mr. Steffey:
I am writing on behalf of over 1,900 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). As a group we collectively represent over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting America’s most precious and important natural and cultural resources. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
As background regarding our involvement in this issue, the Coalition commented in 2016 on the environmental assessment (EA) for the same project. And in 2018 we filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs in the case of National Parks Conservation Assoc. v. Semonite, No. 18-5179 (D.C. Cir. 2019). Prior to the circuit court of appeals ruling, the Project had already been permitted by the Corps and constructed by Dominion based on what the Court subsequently found to be an inadequate and flawed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which included an environmental assessment (EA).
As a result of the litigation, the Corps has prepared a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the transmission line that has already been constructed and put into operation under the flawed EA. The circumstances surrounding the current planning process are highly “unusual” to say the least. Now that the Corps has issued the DEIS, it would be most reasonable and prudent for the Corps to allow the general public and stakeholders ample opportunity to review and comment on the new planning documents for this complex and controversial issue.
REQUEST: We ask that the Corps extend the published 45-day comment period to a minimum of 120 days from November 27, 2020, the date the Federal Register published the Notice of Availability (NOA). This extension is needed due to the length and complexity of the DEIS; the time period during which it was published; and the relatively short opportunity for the public to comment.
JUSTIFICATION: The DEIS for this highly complex and controversial Project is over 5,400 pages long including attachments. These technical documents will require a substantial amount of time to review and analyze. Dominion Energy has already had the opportunity to be part of the development of the DEIS over the past year. The public and concerned organizations should also be given a reasonable amount of time to consider these lengthy documents and to prepare comments.
The Notice of Availability was published during the Thanksgiving weekend and the current comment period encompasses the holiday season. In addition, the 45-day comment period is occurring during a devastating nationwide surge in the COVID-19 pandemic and will end shortly before the new administration assumes leadership of federal agencies such as the National Park Service. Allowing a 45-day comment period that literally closes days before the new administration assumes control and would likely want to comment on this important issue appears to be no coincidence. Such an imprudent approach by the Corps only elevates the likelihood of interagency disagreement and conflict and litigation from third parties once a more conservation-minded administration takes over at the Department of the Interior.
Finally, the projected release date for the DEIS has slipped multiple times over the past few months and there is no apparent requirement for urgency now. We ask that the timetable for receiving public comment be increased to allow the time needed for concerned parties to thoroughly review the DEIS and prepare and submit comments. A minimum 120-day comment period from the date of release would be a reasonable deadline under the unique circumstances surrounding development of this DEIS on this complex and controversial issue.
Thank you for your consideration of our request.
Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks