It has been an exciting week for those of us at Appalachian Voices and for the citizens of Hampton Roads who have been fighting what would be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia for just shy of three years. Months of pressure from Isle of Wight County citizens paid off as their County Board of Supervisors adopted an official resolution of opposition to the proposed coal plant. The county shares their western border with Surry County and is worried about the effect a massive coal plant would have on their crops, economy and the lungs of children and elderly in their county and the region. Click here to learn more. This comes nearly two years after Surry County snubbed Isle of Wight’s request for a third party study of potential negative effects on the region be commissioned on the applicant’s behalf, as is common with large polluting projects. Isle of Wight joins several communities, conservation organizations and local, regional and national health groups in opposing the proposed plant. Wham!
Then, over the weekend came the news that the applicant, the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, lost an important court case. A state judge has ruled in favor of four local citizens and invalidated the town of Dendron’s zoning approval for the project. Late on Friday, Surry County Circuit Judge Sam Campbell ruled that the zoning for the power plant is void, and agreed with the plaintiffs’ position that ODEC had rushed the approvals through and that the town’s public notice violated Virginia law. The court ruled that Dendron had failed to provide the public with fair notice. The citizens—Michael Drewry, Helen Eggleston, John Pond and Willie Richardson, Jr.—were represented by Drewry. Click here for the judge’s opinion. Bam!
In a real case of David & Goliath, small town blueberry farmer and lawyer Michael Drewry (and plaintiffs) won despite the fact that ODEC’s lawyers were actively trying to delay and dismiss the case while publicly claiming that they wanted to see the case go to court. While claiming that they would surely win on the merits ODEC attempted to scare the plaintiffs into backing out by filing a motion to require that they pay damages (likely in the range of millions of dollars) should ODEC win. They then tried to challenge their legal standing in the court case -all the while blaming Drewry for the delay. Virginia law is clear on the issue: a vote must be advertised. It was not. Why ODEC’s attorney’s thought they could get away with an improperly held vote with such a clear state statute is anyone’s guess.
Most recently, the judge was tasked with ODEC’s challenge to the plaintiff’s standing but as he got into the case it must have been clear that this was an open and shut case because he decided to rule, and he did so in the Surry resident’s favor.
Back in February 2010, the fact that the vote was not advertised was the last straw for a group of brave local citizens who had seen just over half of their town council starstruck by ODEC’s promise of fairly meager proffers, and a hefty increase in local tax revenue. The minority on the town council viewed the proposal, appropriately, as a bad deal they couldn’t bear to benefit from, in spite of a real need for increased revenue. To put a 1500 megawatt, dirty coal-fired power plant in their town of just 300 residents, and upwind of a heavily populated region already suffering from poor air quality was an unacceptable proposition for them. After all, among other pollutants such as mercury, lead and millions of tons of coal ash, the coal plant would cause the creation of ground level ozone, a major respiratory irritant. Ozone is the reason for “Code Orange” and “Code Red” air days when ozone levels are so dangerously high that they can cause increased incidences of asthma attacks and can cause lung damage in children, and even healthy adults, if they exert themselves outdoors. As Bob Burnley, the former head of the Department of Environmental Quality, has repeatedly expressed to Isle of Wight and other downwind communities, “If the plant is built, Hampton Roads may find it harder to attract new businesses, and existing businesses may find it harder to expand because of increasingly stronger controls for ozone pollution. That is a terrible burden for Surry County to put on the region during our current economic struggle.”
In this video you can hear the town council members, in the outvoted minority, express their concern that the vote would be illegal on February 1st 2010, the night of the now voided local zoning approval.
Before this night there had been meeting after meeting where the project’s details that were known were barely discussed by the town council there always seemed to be far more questions than answers. Locals like Drewry, his plaintiff’s and dozens of others couldn’t convince the town council to take a step back and consider anything but approval, but they could at least hold ODEC and the proponents on the council accountable for a railroaded and illegal vote.
“This is a significant victory for citizens and due process, given the considerable hardship incurred challenging a well-funded corporation that has consistently defended a clear violation of public notice requirements,” said Drewry.
The next step is largely up to ODEC. Let’s hope that these two serious setbacks in their effort to build an ill conceived, job killing, and dirty coal-fired power plant further convince ODEC to take a step back themselves, and consider a cleaner alternative.
See below for a full list of municipalities and organizations opposed or concerned about the proposal.
- The Town of Surry in Surry County
- Isle of Wight county
- The Wise Energy Coalition
- Chesapeake Bay Foundation
- National Parks Conservation Association
- Hampton Roads Bird Club
- Williamsburg Climate Action Network
- Cape Henry Audobon Society (Norfolk)
- VA Native Plant Society (State and Williamsburg chapter)
- Lynnhaven River Now
- Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Program
Citizen’s groups/political groups
- Coalition to Keep Surry Clean
- Garden Club of Virginia: A coalition of 47 clubs with 3,300 members.
- Isle of Wight Citizen’s Association
- Carrolton Civic League (In Isle of Wight)
- James City County Citizen’s Coalition
- Yorktown Democrats
- CINCH (Consortium for Infant and Child Health -at EVMS in Norfolk)
- American Lung Association
- Virginia Asthma Coalition
- Physicians for Social Responsibility
Those officially concerned
- The City of Williamsburg
- The City of Virginia Beach (on the verge of official opposition)
- Representative Bobby Scott