Subject: Dominion Power Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton Transmission Line Project
Dear Acting Director Benge:
I am writing on behalf of over 1,800 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), whose membership is comprised of retired, former, or current National Park Service (NPS) employees. 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).
Attached, for your information, is a courtesy copy of our recent comments to the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) regarding the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Project. As you know, the Project had already been permitted by the Corps and constructed by Dominion when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found the Corps’ environmental assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to be flawed. The Court subsequently ordered the Corps to re-evaluate the Project and prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS).
We call your attention to Section IV in the attached letter. This section relates specifically to “National Historic Preservation Act Concerns,” all of which involve the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and the National Park Service (NPS) as consulting agencies in the planning process and memorandum of agreement (MOA) that was executed in 2017 based on the flawed EA. The MOA enabled the Project to be permitted and implemented prior to the Court’s ruling in NPCA v. Semonite.
The concerns we communicated to the Corps and are now communicating to you are the following:
- For the DEIS, the Corps did not re-initiate consultation with the appropriate consulting agencies as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. § 470(f)). This is a major procedural shortcoming that must be corrected.
- The 2017 mitigation MOA has done virtually nothing to alleviate the Project’s adverse visual impacts on numerous historic properties within the Project Area. Absent further consultation, the Corps should not assume the MOA is the definitive resolution of those adverse effects.
- The Corps has not considered additional mitigation measures nor fully considered less damaging “phaseable” alternatives in the DEIS. As a result, the Proposed Action fails to adequately resolve well-documented adverse effects to historic properties in the Project Area.
- The 2017 MOA creates the appearance of a conflict of interest involving the ACHP, the Virginia SHPO, and the NPS as consulting agencies for the Court-ordered EIS. That appearance of conflict is magnified by the fact that the Corps did not reinitiate formal consultation with them, and none of these agencies submitted scoping comments on the DEIS.
While we are not surprised the Corps did not propose any meaningful changes to the Project in the DEIS, we are perplexed that there is little mention in the 5,000+ page document of your agency’s involvement in the Court-ordered EIS planning process. To the contrary, the DEIS indicates that:
- The Corps did not re-initiate Section 106 consultation as would normally be expected under the National Historic Preservation Act;
- The SHPO did not submit scoping comments for the DEIS. As a result, your participation in the EIS process to date is virtually invisible to the public;
- The Corps did not consider and evidently the consulting agencies, including the SHPO, did not suggest any additional mitigation measures or new less damaging alternatives that could have been phased in to replace the Project and alleviate the adverse effects to historic properties within a reasonable time horizon (e.g., ten years). As a result, the adverse effects are long-term, if not permanent, and irreparable; and
- The Corps (and evidently the SHPO, ACHP, and the NPS) has relied upon the pre-existing 2017 MOA as preemptive resolution of any additional consulting agency concerns regarding the Proposed Action in the DEIS.
For these reasons, it appears to us that the SHPO may support or at least accept the Corps’ previous decision to permit the Project under the flawed EA. If that is not the case, we would appreciate hearing about the SHPO’s role in the DEIS planning process. Specifically, we ask that you please explain the SHPO’s involvement in the context of four items listed “1-4” above.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. We look forward to your response.
Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks