****UPDATE as of 7/8/2017: The Army Cops of Engineers has given final approval for the project, but perhaps the impact on the site of the fort might not be as big as I’d feared. Still, the experience of traveling there will definitely be changed. ****
As many of you know, there has been a battle going on in Virginia between Dominion Power and a large number of historical preservation groups and public history sites. Today it looks like the forces of preservation are going to lose.
The power company has been wanting to place massive lines and towers across the James River near the site of many historic attractions, most notably Jamestown. They insist that it is necessary to continue to deliver power to the lower Virginia Peninsula, a region that is ripe with extremely important historical sites from Native, Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War America. As far as history is concerned, the whole area of the “historic triangle” (which includes Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown) is an unparalleled American treasure.
If you have ever visited Jamestown, you know that one of the most magical things about the place is that the view of the river is largely unobstructed by modern clutter. You can stand at the historic site of the first successfully sustained English colony in the “New World,” looking out at the river and pondering what it must have been like to have landed there in 1607 (the fear, the hopes, the curiosity). But it’s not just a lily-white man thing: The first Africans to arrive in the colonies that became the United States arrived here in 1619 as indentured servants. The region was also the domain of the most powerful native confederation of tribes on the eastern seaboard, and you can connect to the perspective of the natives as they saw their beautiful lands invaded by men who only saw it as profit. What must they have thought while looking at those strange ships coming up the river for the first time? If you want a “period rush,” there are few places that can deliver it as well as Jamestown.
When (or if) the lines go up, the view is likely to be changed drastically, spoiling a truly sacred site.
The fight against the lines was placed into the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers, as they had to sign off on the project before it could go forward. Many were hopeful that the corps would squash the whole thing, but when they approved the Dakota Access Pipeline a few months ago despite the Standing Rock protests, things started looking bleak.
(FYI: News today that the Standing Rock fight isn’t over just yet, as the Sioux Tribe won a small legal victory).
Now the Army Corps of Engineers have followed up their dastard decision in Dakota by provisionally approving Dominion’s permit. They still have to jump through a few environmental impact hoops (needing approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality).
The good news is that Dominion will be forced to spend a lot of money trying to mitigate the impact on the historic view-shed, and to enhance landscapes and views at many other Virginia Peninsula historic sites. They will also have to donate millions to local native tribes and their efforts at preserving and interpreting sites associated with their land and history.
Such conditions, however, did not satisfy most preservation groups. Sadly, they may have to now start turning their attention to working with Dominion in order to lessen the impact on Jamestown and other James River sites. I’m guessing that is going to be difficult for them to accept.
Shame on the Corps of Engineers, and shame on Dominion Power.
If you have never been to Jamestown, I recommend getting there ASAP. It will always be a very special site, but its current time travel magic may soon be a thing of the past.