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Posted February 10, 2012 | comments 8 Comments

Warren County power plant: Clarity on park haze issue

Studies: Dominion facility to bring benefits, drawbacks

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Shenandoah National Park's streams will be cleaner but its views sometimes diminished by operations at the planned Dominion Virginia Power plant, according to several studies projecting the plant's effects on the park.

Park officials describe the gas-fired power plant as a net environmental asset, thanks to agreements between federal officials and representatives of Dominion Power. Those agreements include the closing of an aging coal-fired power plant in West Virginia and reduction or elimination of emissions at other company facilities in the region.

The plant, planned for a site about three miles north of Front Royal, cleared its last regulatory hurdle before construction can begin when the State Corporation Commission approved the project Feb. 2.

In lowering emissions at other Dominion Power facilities, chemicals producing acid rain that fall in the park will also decrease. That means less harm to aquatic life in water that would otherwise grow too acidic, according to scientific models of the park's streams.

But other models predict a downside for the park when the power plant begins operating in about three years.

Park officials expect the plant's emissions to create a plume that will blow toward the park and leave a noticeable haze under certain environmental conditions.

"Based on modeling, it would not happen that often but when it did, some of the impacts would be severe," said Jim Schaberl, chief of natural and cultural resources at the park. "There are some days when visitors in the northern district of the park would be impacted quite a bit by the plume."

The models used to estimate the plume's effect on visibility were produced by a contractor hired by Dominion Power and National Park Service staff, Schaberl said.

The model determined the number of days over a five-year period during which visibility would be reduced at several park locations. Only five places, all in the northern part of the park, were found to have their views reduced for periods of one hour or two consecutive hours a day.

The five locations were found to have diminished visibility on a total of 65 days over the five-year period.

For example, Signal Knob Overlook registered the highest number of days with diminished visibility at 26. Dickey Ridge was next with 14; Compton Gap Road had 14; Lands Run Road Gate would be affected on eight days and Shenandoah Valley Overlook on three.

The central and southern portions of the park would be unaffected by the plume, according to the data.

The model may underestimate the effect of the haze on visitors' ability to enjoy park views, Schaberl said. The data only show the effects of the plume on visibility inside the park itself, not lands outside. Schaberl said that means the data does not show the plume's effects on the spectacular views looking west out of the park across the Shenandoah Valley.

Schaberl said a weakness in the Clean Air Act's implementation, which requires study of the power plant's effects on park views, limits the data to impacts on federal land.

"Despite the fact that we can see to West Virginia on clear days, we can't talk about that distance being obscured," Schaberl said. "We can only talk about the plume affecting visibility over the park."

Dan Genest, a spokesman for Dominion Power, acknowledged that visibility may not be what people are expecting on a handful of days, but improved water quality will more than offset whatever haze is noticed.

"In the final analysis, the arrangement we worked out will have a net environmental benefit, Genest said, referring to actions taken to reduce emissions elsewhere among Dominion Power facilities. "The park is better off with the power plant and us making the changes we agreed to."


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8 Comments | Leave a comment

    As a frequent visitor to Shenandoah National Park, I fully understand and appreciate concerns about the pending plume over the Park and its affects on the views from the different overlooks. But what about the plume’s possible affect on humans? On animal life, wild and domestic? On farmland? On organic farmers? On the kudzu and wild grape vines that are smothering native vegetation? Have any studies addressed these concerns? Those of us with asthma would certainly appreciate knowing if the air we breathe is going to be negatively affected by “the plume."

    10 years from now we will still have the "plume" in the valley. Somebody tell me how many people will be employed at this plant and any other benefits we will be recieving 10 years from now? I am concerned those responsible for welcoming this was not looking at the big picture. Maybe looking at their own pocketbooks as some have suggested? I just am not seeing a good risk/reward here yet.

    I wonder who will be compensating me for my decline in property values.
    Get a house in the Mountains, beautiful view of a power plant!!

    The plume will be nothing like the Avtex operation was like. people in Front Royal didn't seem to mind the smell and the health affects as long as it provided low paying jobs.

    At least we will get an electrical supply from the power plant and not spend millions in clean up cost and pollution from Avtex.

    The plant will not supply many jobs, but it will supply power to our region. Everyone wants the housing market to pick back up, what do you think provides the power for the growth?

    I have worked at Skyland Lodge in the SNP for almost 30 years and have just reveled in the beauty of the trails, the wildlife, the waterfalls, the panoramic scenes, sunsets, sunrises, rainbows, lightning storms and I can go on and on for to me it is truly a heaven
    on earth as John Muir says, " Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessing of a mountain day,whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever"

    You cannot separate out a persons livelihood with what people receive from visits to our Parks across this nation for they bring mental, emotional, physical and I would venture to say spiritual refreshment to so many that they go back to their jobs healthier and ready to perform their tasks expected of them. NPCA released several studies on air quality in SNP and one called, Turning Point, spoke of how we need to serious address our air quality problems for future generations and the Park had a very bad problem. I have noticed an improvement over the last couple of years compared to many years of no view at all in the summer because of the haze and why we want to go backward with another power plant so close to the Park is just not a good idea in my opinion.

    Article XI of the Constitution of the Commonwealth
    of Virginia says, "it shall be the Commonwealths policy to protect its
    atmosphere, lands and waters, from pollution, impairment or destruction for the
    benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the Commonwealth" and lets
    hope many of us here can step up to the plate for the important asset of the Park and for the health of the people and environment surrounding this nations important treasure.

    Well avtex had jobs yes, in 1983, it did not cost the town a penny to clean up, that was federal. 2nd a 2000 person job growth for 24 months will not do anything for the town in the long run, except bring in migrant workers. The remaining 100 full time jobs upon completion means 100 houses needed, well big deal. Finally that plant will not supply us with power, it is for NOVA. We will not get any benefit from it we belong to a cooperative which Dominion Power is not part of.
    The only thing in recent history Front Royal is known for is being the second lagest superfund cleanup in the US. The solar plant proposed to go in would have offered more high tech jobs, skilled labor opportunities and power benefits to town. But Front Royal would rather be known as the 2nd largest superfund cleanup and non green market in the region. How the town screwed that whole thing up is amazing. I wonder who got their pockets lined and did not get caught this time. No word of promised gifts and financial gain to the town this time.

    I'm all for cleaner alternative energy sources, but the problem is where we get these sources. Especially in the case of natural gas. Half of the east coast is dicovered to have a massive supply of natural gas. Retreaving the gas is the issue. And now this power plant is coming to Warren County to create a few jobs here and there but the long term is the revenue the county will bennifit. Just Google Gasland movie and see where our natural gas will come from to power our wonderful plant. The sad thing is one of these plants is coming to my town.     

    mtwolf, you couldn't have come any closer to voicing my feelings on this as you did...

    Leave it to good ole Front Royal to spurn the opportunity of becoming a potential leader in green technology and power production and be a prototype for turning around an evironmental disaster, in lieu of building a fossil fuel plant that will dirty up the atmosphere and ultimately provide power for people hundreds of miles away...

    Not sure whether to laugh at the idiocy, or cry at the lost opportunity.


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