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Energy Development Threatens Mount Vernon's Historic Views

Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, is embroiled in a very public battle with Dominion Energy.

The energy company has plans to construct a compressor station directly across the river from Mount Vernon. The project would change the landscape views, adding two smokestacks to the otherwise serene and mostly unaltered view from the first president's plantation home.

A map of the proposed construction shows the Dominion Energy project in red, directly across from Mount Vernon, pictured in purple.

http://mtv-main-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/files/pages/linkset/uploads/2-mv-view-map.pdf

Mount Vernon imagines the view would end up looking something like this:

https://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/viewshed/

Unsightly smokestacks aren't the only concern with the potential construction project. Mount Vernon is equally as concerned about the risk of fire. Additionally, if Dominion Energy moves forward with the compressor station, it could set a precedent allowing other similar types of construction in the area.

From Mount Vernon:

Mount Vernon is greatly concerned about the visibility of the exhaust stacks from the estate should Dominion proceed with a higher stack height, based on incongruities in permitting applications. The exhaust stacks for this natural gas compressor station may exceed 110 feet, threatening the iconic and historic view from the home of George Washington.

The exhaust from the stacks themselves including the frequency and nature of what would be visible has also not been adequately addressed.

A secondary issue is the risk of an accident at the station; the visual impact would be even greater if a fire broke out, destroying trees and other natural sight barriers.

A final point to note is that Dominion had to apply for a special exception to build in a Rural Conservation Zone. Should this project move forward, the precedent would be set for other industrial development.

Doug Bradburn, president and CEO of Mount Vernon, published a video message, imploring the public to help the issue "go viral."

Just this week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Mount Vernon as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

From the Washington Business Journal:

The trust, which released its 31st annual list this week, said Mount Vernon is under threat, along with the natural beauty of Piscataway National Park across the Potomac River in Maryland, due to Dominion Energy's plans to build a natural gas compressor station in Charles County. The proposed compressor station would take about 6 acres of a 50-acre tract at Barrys Hill Road, near Marshall Hall Road, roughly three miles from Mount Vernon.

Sarah Miller Coulson, a regent with the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, the nonprofit that operates Mount Vernon, said in a statement Tuesday that the compressor station, along with its related access needs, "would profoundly disturb George Washington's iconic landscape that generations have worked tirelessly to preserve."

Bradburn told the WBJ, "when the Charles County Board of Appeals denied a special zoning exemption in March for Dominion to move forward on the station, it became clear to us this was a situation that the local population didn't want and it also would have a long-term negative impact on our ability to keep industrial development out of the rural conservation zone.'"

After the special zoning exemption was denied, Dominion Energy sued Charles County.

WBJ continued.:

"We've done a test to show that it is not visible and Mount Vernon commissioned another test that confirmed it was not visible, so we were surprised," Dominion Energy spokesman  Karl Neddenien said. "We have been working collaboratively with them since the early planning for the project two years ago."

Neddenien did not have a construction timeline, adding that the company is seeking permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Maryland Department of Environment.

Bradburn, of Mount Vernon, said the issue is not the height of the building, but rather the long-term impact that industrial development will have on the viewshed area, he said.

In the 1950s, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) successfully defeated oil tank farm development plans, which would've been installed across the river. Then in the 1960s, the MVLA warded off what would've been a three-story sewage plant across from Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon is the most visited historic home in America, seeing over a million visitors each year.

Part of what makes our historical sites so awe-inspiring is the feeling (made possible by tireless conservation efforts) that everything you see is exactly as it was when the men and women who formed and molded our country were busy with the business of America. To imagine what George Washington mulled as he sat on his porch, looking out across the river from the exact vantage point he frequently enjoyed is an incredible opportunity, and one to be preserved for generations to come.