November 23, 2022
Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20314
RE: NAO-2012-0080 Surry-Skiffes Creek-Whealton Proposal Meeting Request
Dear Assistant Secretary Connor:
We, the undersigned groups with special expertise on this matter, continue to have significant concerns about the Army Corps-managed environmental review of Dominion Energy’s Surry- Skiffes Creek-Whealton 500kV transmission line project across the James River near Jamestown, Virginia. We request the opportunity to meet with you regarding our concerns prior to the release of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).
As background, our organizations submitted comments in 2017 on the Army Corps’ original Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project. Many of us were involved in the subsequent litigation that resulted in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit finding the EA legally deficient. National Parks Conservation Ass’n v. Semonite, 916 F.3d 1075 (D.C. Cir. 2019).1The D.C. Circuit’s initial ruling also vacated the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit. However, Dominion Energy and the Corps moved the Court to reconsider its order based on the fact that Dominion had already completed the project and energized the line, notwithstanding the fact that Dominion had previously assured the Court that it was proceeding with construction entirely at its own risk. The Court subsequently amended its order and remanded to the District Court for remedy proceedings; the District Court ultimately declined to vacate the permit. And, in late 2020, we submitted extensive, substantive comments on the Corps’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project, which identified the already constructed transmission line as the preferred alternative. In addition, since the issuance of the DEIS, we have met with Jaime Pinkham, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Corps; Councilon Environmental Quality (CEQ) General Counsel Justin Pidot; and Jonathan Meade of the National Park Service to communicate our serious, unresolved concerns. Finally, we submitted formal requests to both the Department of Interior and the National Park Service to seek a pre-decisional referral to CEQ to resolve significantthis major federal action.
Now an FEIS is expected to be released by the Corps’ Norfolk District this winter, and we fear it will simply “re-approve” the already constructed transmission line without addressing serious concerns brought forth by the National Park Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, tribal representatives, and the conservation and historic preservation community. Meeting with you before an FEIS is issued is imperative to make you aware of serious ongoing flaws in the planning process, which can and should be addressed in order to protect nationally significant historic properties, indigenous cultural landscapes, unique aquatic resources, and other important aspects of the local ecosystem.
The DEIS issued by the Corps’ Norfolk District in November 2020 proposed no additional or meaningful resource protection measures related to the already constructed project. While the DEIS purports to consider “28 alternatives” and “one conceptual alternative,” none of those options included the eventual replacement and removal of the existing transmission line. In essence, the transmission line would be a “permanent” intrusion on the landscape adjacent to two units of the National Park System, a National Historic Landmark, and numerous historic properties. As such, the impacts constitute an impairment of national park resources and values, as well as long-term adverse effects to the historic properties and environmental resources.
Not surprisingly, in the DEIS the Norfolk District identified the already constructed transmission line as its Preferred Alternative and repeated many of the serious environmental analysis flaws from the debunked EA. Thus, it appears highly likely that the FEIS will “re-approve” the already constructed transmission line without making any meaningful changes that would significantly reduce the well-documented adverse impacts of the project on Colonial National Historical Park and the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail, two units of the National Park System, as well as numerous other historic properties including Carter’s Grove, a National Historic Landmark, within the project area. In addition to harm to historic resources, impacts to the Indigenous Cultural Landscape and to the federally-endangered Atlantic sturgeon were not properly assessed or addressed in the DEIS.
The Norfolk District recently indicated it plans to release its FEIS this winter. We request a meeting with you to discuss the many serious deficiencies in the process before an FEIS is released. If no action is taken, the likely outcome of this project is permanent impairment of national park resources and values and long-term adverse effects to multiple historic properties and ecological resources, opening the door to further degradation of resources. The window of opportunity for effecting meaningful change in the likely outcome is closing quickly. We invite you to work with us to ensure that the resources and values under your stewardship are ultimately conserved unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. We respectfully urge you to ask your staff to contact Pamela Goddard to facilitate a meeting date and time.
William J. Cook
Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC,
Rappahannock & Upper Mattaponi Tribes
Chief Executive Officer
Senior Program Director
National Parks Conservation Association
Deputy General Counsel
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Michelle B. Nowlin
Clinical Professor of Law
Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic
Michael B. Murray
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Charles Sams, Shawn Benge, Michael Caldwell, Joy Beasley, Ray Sauvajot, Gay Vietzke, Jonathan Meade, National Park Service
Jerri Marr, Steven Williams, Colonial National Historical Park
Reid J. Nelson, Jaime Loichinger, John Eddins, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Justin Pidot, Jayni Hein, Thomas Sharpe, Council on Environmental Quality
Jaime Pinkham, Stacey Jensen, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Stepan Nevshehirlian, Carrie Traver, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, United States Senate
Rob Wittman, U.S. House of Representatives
Julie Langan, Roger Kirchen, Virginia Department of Historic Resources
- 1The D.C. Circuit’s initial ruling also vacated the Clean Water Act Section 404 permit. However, Dominion Energy and the Corps moved the Court to reconsider its order based on the fact that Dominion had already completed the project and energized the line, notwithstanding the fact that Dominion had previously assured the Court that it was proceeding with construction entirely at its own risk. The Court subsequently amended its order and remanded to the District Court for remedy proceedings; the District Court ultimately declined to vacate the permit.