A proposed power line rebuild has some area residents worried about potential impacts to the local viewshed, tourism and historic resources.
“There absolutely is a concern about the viewshed,” said Ann H. Mallek, who represents the White Hall District on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. “It is going to make a huge impact on our historic districts, on our scenic [U.S.] 250, on our tourism.”
Dominion Virginia Power is proposing to rebuild the Cunningham-Dooms 500 kV transmission line, which runs for 32.7 miles through Fluvanna, Albemarle and Augusta counties.
About 25 miles of the line is in southern and western Albemarle, crossing Interstate 64, Route 20, U.S. 29 and U.S. 250.
Dominion has said the rebuild is needed because the line is approaching the end of its service life. Construction on the Cunningham-Dooms transmission line finished in 1966 and operation began soon after.
The line was built using steel lattice towers composed of COR-TEN weathering steel, which forms a dark brown iron oxide layer intended to protect the steel and blend into the natural environment.
“The line is very visible for miles and miles from many different parts of Albemarle County, but we’re used to it because it’s brown and it doesn’t glitter and it’s been there — it’s part of the landscape,” Mallek said.
In its application for the rebuild to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, Dominion said the COR-TEN weathering steel was believed to be maintenance-free at the time of construction, but the steel could pose problems in the future if it is not replaced.
“The failure to address the significant inherent corrosion and deterioration associated with COR-TEN weathering steel lattice towers will limit the company’s ability to maintain reliable transmission service to its customers, whose load continues to increase,” Dominion wrote.
Dominion proposes to rebuild the towers using galvanized steel — a material more reflective than the existing COR-TEN weathering steel.
The rebuild is also anticipated to increase the range of structure heights from 72 feet to 149 feet to 108 feet to 174 feet, with an average height increase of about 28 feet.
A pre-application analysis prepared for Dominion by Stantec Consulting Services found the rebuild would have moderate impacts on the Southern Albemarle Rural Historic District, which means there would be an increase in visibility.
Although Stantec said there would be a minimal impact on the Greenwood-Afton Rural Historic District, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources said it believes there would be a moderate impact on the district.
“[Albemarle] County’s concerns are primarily about the visibility and the appearance of this line,” said Mark Graham, director of community development for the county.
While the county has policies requiring cell towers to have an earth tone to blend into the environment, it cannot mandate Dominion change the color or height of its towers, as the SCC has oversight authority.
“We’re not opposed to Virginia Dominion Power upgrading this line — we recognize that energy is a vital part of the economic engine for the commonwealth — but we do believe that there are ways they can do this and provide the same project with minimal changes to the visibility of the line,” Graham said.
In March, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation suggested Dominion use dulled steel for the towers to reduce visibility. But Dominion said it “does not believe that the additional cost and potential decrement in structural integrity posed by the use of … dulled steel for structures, as requested by VOF, is appropriate.”
In a subsequent email to Dominion, the outdoors foundation noted it previously worked with Appalachian Power, which used “a darkened or low-reflective treatment applied to the finish of galvanized steel lattice towers to reduce the visual presence of the structures in scenic areas” during construction of one of its transmission lines.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation urged Dominion to “consider any measures that might minimize the visual impacts to the important scenic and cultural resources of this region.”
Several written comments submitted to the SCC from local residents also conveyed a concern about the visual impacts.
In an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow, Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said the company is considering the input it is receiving.
“We are paying close attention to the requests and recommendations from the public about structure material, style and height of the poles that will replace the aging infrastructure,” Anderson said. “We’ll take suggestions under advisement, considering, among other things, engineering needs, cost and long-term effect.”
Anderson said Dominion is confident it has “put forth a thorough and thoughtful application, but ultimately, the SCC has final decision-making on this project.”
Dominion says no new right-of-way is required for the rebuild project, which would cost about $59 million.
Pending SCC approval, the line is slated for construction to begin in summer 2017 and to go into service on June 1, 2019.
Two public hearings will be held Aug. 8 at the Albemarle County Office Building-McIntire, one at 2 p.m. and one at 7 p.m.