Black residents protest state land grab to power Amazon plant

Black residents protest state land grab to power Amazon plant
Elderly black residents in Virginia are protesting a plan that seeks to seize land, originally granted to freed slaves, to build a 100-foot power line through their properties to benefit an Amazon data center and some customers.

“Our community is just as important as any interest this board may have in Amazon and the monopoly giant named Dominion Energy,” Joyce Hudson, a spokesperson for the Alliance to Save Carver Road, said in a press release.

“No community should be made to sacrifice so much for one multibillion-dollar corporation.”

The protest is spurred by a proposed 230-kilovolt transmission line and electric infrastructure that Dominion Energy wants to build in Prince William County, Virginia, reportedly to power an Amazon data center expansion initiative, and to improve reliability and electric service in the area.

The plan, at one point designed to run along Interstate 66, would benefit 450 customers directly upon completion and improve reliability for more than 6,000 customers in western Prince William, the energy company said.

Currently, the plan is to run the lines and more than 100 feet tall towers from Haymarket and Gainesville through the Carver Road area, a historic black neighborhood that includes properties acquired after an 1866 law allowing newly freed slaves to own land.

The protest was timed before a Prince William County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Residents of Carver Road recently found out they were the latest target for the route of the transmission towers.

“Carver Road does not have a legal standing in this fight because we did not know we would be one of the options selected,” Hudson told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “I am directly impacted by this plan. My property, all of the trees will be cleared, and a 110-foot tower will be put on my property. That’s devastating for me.”

Residents ‒ many in their 60s, 70s and 80s ‒ rallied outside the offices of the Prince William County board holding aloft signs that read: “Save our land from Dominion Bullies,”“Carver Road – No, I-66 Hybrid – Yes” and “Truth it’s never too late to tell it.”

Residents wanted support from the county board of supervisors that were due to meet that afternoon.

“We are requesting the county speak up and stand up for us, we cannot do this alone. We are definitely feel that we are being bullied,” said Hudson. “The county has in the past spoken and we would like to make that request here today that we get some support. It is not just Carver Road it's all of the communities being affected.”

Joining them was Nathan Gracon, who has lived on Carver Road for 51 years. He said he heard Dominion didn’t plan to take anyone’s property but the the easement for the towers was 125 foot wide.

“My property is 600 feet wide, you take 300 feet out of that, that includes my home,” said Gracon. “This notion that they won’t take someone’s home is completely false. We have been in Gainesville since 1860, we are descendants of slave owners that were able to own land in the state of Virginia. We have it, we are trying to maintain it, we are trying to take care of it, we are trying to live peacefully and to the end.”

Lawyers for Amazon said the data center expansion may not happen, although Dominion spokesman Chuck Penn told the Richmond Times Dispatch the utility has “not been given any reason to believe” that the two additional buildings wouldn’t be built. Even without the expansion, “the company believes it would still need a transmission solution to the Haymarket load area.”

In June, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) authorized Dominion Energy to seize the land on which to build the towers, a move opposed by residents and public officials such as the board supervisors.

On Friday, however, the SCC said it will reconsider its decision to allow the route to cut through the land.

Dominion Energy has a “miserable track” record of damaging the environment and the properties of ordinary people, residents said, pointing to the company’s coal ash ponds at Possum Point, proposed power lines near Jamestown, and Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Buckingham, Virginia.