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Back on the Trail?

Residents want transmission line out of backyards and back on W&OD Trail; hearing on underground lines to be held in Richmond May 18.

Citizens who fought for months to keep a 230-kilovolt transmission line off the western end of the W&OD Trail have a new opponent: residents south of Leesburg who want the power line put back on the trail.

Last fall, Dominion Virginia Power bowed to public pressure and agreed not to name the last wooded 11 miles of the W&OD Trail as a potential route for its transmission line to western Loudoun. When it submitted its application to the State Corporation Commission in April, the company kept its promise.

A group of residents calling itself Scenic Loudoun Legal Defense responded swiftly. On April 27, they filed a motion with the SCC arguing that Dominion must include the W&OD on its application because the company owns an easement along the trail.

Charles Hundley, a Richmond attorney representing the residents, said that without the W&OD option on the table, the commissioners wouldn't get all the information they needed to make a decision.

"If you were one of the commissioners, you would need to have appropriate information in front of you just as any judge to help you make a decision," he said.

In its motion, Scenic Loudoun Legal Defense asks that the SCC amends or dismisses Dominion's application because it had not included its own easement as a potential route for the transmission line.

"We are respectfully requesting the commissioners to follow the law," Hundley said.

Dominion spokesperson Le-Ha Anderson said the company will have a response after the SCC's own response.

On Tuesday, the SCC announced tentative dates in February 2006 for public hearings on the power line.

SAVE THE TRAIL vice president Blake Netherwood had refrained from celebrating three weeks ago when Dominion submitted its application without the W&OD Trail on it.

Now, he's feeling a little better.

"I personally think it's a good thing," he said of the lawsuit. "It's a good thing all around."

Netherwood had his doubts all along that the SCC would let Dominion keep the W&OD, where it owns the easement, off its application. When the company followed through with its promise to citizens, it made future fund raising for Save the Trail more difficult — who, Netherwood pointed out, would donate money to a cause that appears on the surface to be resolved?

With the sudden upcropping of the lawsuit, however, Netherwood thinks proponents of the trail will rally again.

"Certainly we're going to ramp up and amp up our fund raising and use this as leverage," he said.

Save the Trail is one of many citizen organizations that have sprung up since Dominion announced plans for a western transmission line a year ago. The Western Loudoun Transmission Line Stakeholders group has attempted to act as an umbrella organization with varying success. The group's goal is to get the transmission line buried, a move that Dominion has refused to consider, citing cost and lack of expertise.

An attempt a few weeks ago to get all the citizen organizations to agree to the tagline "Underground Anywhere" went nowhere.

"There are many disparate groups in the stakeholders that don't agree with the individual positions," said Pat Sloyan, the chairman of the stakeholders group. "Their individual positions reflect the most basic instinct: not in my backyard."

DOMINION'S PREFERRED route, which would take the transmission line south of Leesburg for 15 miles from its Pleasant View substation to a proposed Hamilton substation, would locate the power line on 120-foot steel towers within 500 feet of Del. Joe May's home.

"I wasn't very pleased to see [the proposed route] because it is visible from two of four sides of our property," May (R-33) said.

May has played a key role in the power line debate. This spring, he sponsored legislation that would allow for a special tax district that would pay the extra cost of locating the line underground.

On May 18, he will host a joint Science and Technology Committee meeting on the costs of underground power lines in Richmond. Among the invited speakers are Sloyan and underground expert Harry Orton.

May said he has extended invitations to Save the Trail, Dominion, Loudoun County government and the SCC, but does not yet know if they will accept.

At the hearing, May hopes the real figures about underground costs will come out. Dominion, which has 35 miles of underground lines compared to 6,000 miles overhead, has estimated that an 11-mile underground line on the W&OD would cost $100 million. It has not provided estimates for other routes.

"We've been hearing numbers of $10 million a mile to bury, $2 million a mile overhead," May said. "We really just don't have solid information. We have to find out what the heck is the situation."