Under choppy waters was the spawning ground of the Atlantic sturgeon, a large, prehistoric-looking fish credited with saving the early settlers from starvation. So abundant were the fish then that members of native tribes would wade into the river and catch them by hand. By 40 years ago, however, the sturgeon were thought to be wiped out because of decades of overfishing. Today, the fish are struggling to make a comeback as a federally protected endangered species.It's hard to call the James River a wilderness area, since it's in the middle of one of the most heavily populated regions of the country.
Now, Dominion Virginia Power wants to build 17 power transmission towers across the James River. The proposal has drawn fierce opposition from environmentalists in the latest in a series of battles between corporations and conservationists over wilderness areas across the country.
Dominion officials say they need to build the towers because new federal emissions restrictions are forcing the closure of two dirty, coal-burning power plants in Yorktown. They say the towers are the only way to provide electricity to north Hampton Roads without risking rolling blackouts when energy use spikes on hot summer days.So the need for these transmission lines is a result of Obama's war on coal?
Conservationists, such as the National Parks Conservation Association and the Chesapeake Conservancy, say invoking blackouts is a scare tactic. And they argue that sticking towers as tall as 290 feet in the river is a mistake, given that the landscape looks pretty much as it did when Capt. John Smith first saw it in 1607. They say Dominion should consider alternatives.
“The underlying issue is we have remarkable resources surrounding these towers, specifically sturgeon,” Brunkow said. A deep-water channel under his boat “is where we would find the sturgeon .?.?. in heavy concentration” during an April-to-June spawning rite and a late July-to-October spawning season.So what's the issue with sturgeon?
About 100 sturgeon were killed by the propellers of industrial ships during construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge across New York’s Hudson River, Brunkow said, and environmentalists are worried that the same could happen when big ships help erect the transmission towers.But do we really have to give up sturgeon to bring power to Hampton Roads?
Placing 17 transmission towers across a river in water as deep as 30 feet is no small feat. The two-legged skeletal frames must be anchored to the river floor in concrete and forced into the ground by a massive pile driver.
The thumping percussion of the pile driver is likely to disturb not only the sturgeon, but also other anadromous fish that live their early lives in rivers before moving on to the ocean as adults.
“Every sturgeon killed by ship strike or a tower being pounded into the ground in this important area is a step backward in the effort to recover this population,” he said.
Dominion proposed a solution, said Stephenie Harrington, the project’s communications chief. Its crews would work only November to February to avoid the long spawning season. And when the giant pile driver is in operation, Dominion would erect a plastic bubble curtain to blunt the hammering, it said.
Dominion was heartened several weeks ago when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that those steps meant the project “was not likely to adversely impact” sturgeon.I guess the question is whether the environmentalists can call on the White House to put pressure on NOAA, the same way they got the White House to politicize the State Department's findings on the impacts of the Keystone Pipeline. I know how I'd bet. If it were Washington D.C. and not Hampton Roads, I wouldn't care. They deserve the blackout.
But in a November interview, a spokeswoman for the NOAA Greater Atlantic Region said that the determination was preliminary. The agency is involved in a deeper investigation into whether sturgeon can withstand the impact of transmission towers, said Jennifer Goebel, a spokeswoman.