- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Several hundred Northern Virginia residents and officials packed an Arlington hotel ballroom yesterday to protest the Energy Department’s proposal to build an electrical transmission line through Northern Virginia.

They said the lines would displace them from their homes, reduce their property values and ruin pristine and historical countryside.

“Two Realtors have told me my property is worthless right now because nobody would buy it,” said Judy Almquist, a retired widow who said she depends on apartments she rents in Fauquier County for her income. The property lies in the path of a proposed transmission line.

The Energy Department called the hearing — the only local meeting scheduled — to give residents an opportunity to respond to the federal government’s designation last month of the Washington-Baltimore region as part of a “national interest electric transmission corridor.” The designation means the federal government could override state and local authority to build transmission lines.

Without the new 500,000-kilovolt power lines, the region’s electrical capacity would face breakdowns as soon as 2011, an Energy Department policy adviser said yesterday.

“Problems of this sort get worse if they are not attended to,” David Meyer said. “There is a blackout risk here.”

He said power failures could spread throughout the District and eight Mid-Atlantic states through central New York if electrical congestion is not eased.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Energy Department authority to designate national corridors for new power lines. California also is designated for one of the corridors.

If states are unable to resolve electrical congestion, the Energy Policy Act would authorize the Energy Department to give public utilities authority to seize private property for transmission lines.

The national corridor in Virginia would run from Rockingham County in the Shenandoah Valley to Arlington in the Washington area. It would cut across 15 counties, including Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William.

Power companies Allegheny Energy Inc. and Dominion would build and operate the lines.

The Energy Department’s warnings did not calm residents who testified during the hearing, some bearing signs expressing opposition to the transmission lines.

The Energy Department’s designation imposes unfairly on rural areas, said Robert Miller, a member of the Madison County Board of Supervisors, who wore a white hard hat with a power-line tower on top.

“It signals the end of 100 years of voluntary conservation,” he said.

Donna Widawski, who described herself as a “47-year-old stay-at-home mom” from Haymarket, said, “It’s the large electric companies and lobbyists with the cash and connections who have been given preferential treatment with this corridor proposal. They are the ones who have turned government into a game only they can afford to play.”

“As a shareholder of Dominion power, I can assure you that Dominion power’s decisions to condemn in the interest of its expansion plans would be made virtually entirely based on its profit intentions with little or no consideration for the victims in its path or the real common good,” said Helen E. Marmoll of Haymarket.

Mr. Meyer responded to the criticisms by saying states and local government still would have some authority for determining the route of a national corridor.

“The designation [of a national transmission line corridor] will not prescribe in any sort of way what the corridor will be,” Mr. Meyer said.

Bonnie Aitken, a Clifton resident, said she and her husband bought 111 acres of land near Linden in 2000 that now lies in the path of one of the proposed power lines. The property had been appraised for as much as $2 million, she said.

“It’s now probably worth 25 percent of what it was,” she said.

The property lies near the Appalachian Trail, which Mrs. Aitken said would lose some of its natural beauty by intrusion of the power lines.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, questioned whether the Energy Department could resolve residents’ objections in a single public hearing.

“The federal government should not run roughshod over these communities,” he said.

The 60-day public comment period ends July 6. Afterward, the Energy Department will issue a report to Congress.

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