The State Corporation Commission is reviewing whether Dominion Energy could extend a substation project that has frustrated, irked, and baffled residents to 2026.

Hearing officer Ann Berkebile said Thursday (June 10) that she will issue a report following public testimony in which residents detailed their frustrations over a project to rebuild the Idylwood Substation on Shreve Road.

“The first thing I want to note is how disheartening it is to be contemplating construction in our community until December 2026,” said Lori Jeffrey, president of Holly Crest Community Association, further saying delays and excuses from Dominion have occurred throughout the project and residents have learned to not accept the company’s statements at face value.

Dominion didn’t respond Friday to a request for comment. Attorneys for the company as well as county and other parties didn’t question witnesses when given the opportunity at Thursday’s hearing. Fairfax County didn’t address a media inquiry by press time.

Approved by the county in 2015 and the SCC in September 2017, the project calls for rebuilding, relocating, and replacing facilities and lines in and around the existing substation.

Dominion has said the proposed enhancements will “provide seamless, reliable power to Fairfax County, the cities of Falls Church and Fairfax and support the energy needs of the Metrorail.”

In justifying the extension, the utility company has cited the complexity of the project as well as lengthier permitting processes than expected and acknowledged that it underestimated parts of the timeline, among other factors.

“The Company is cognizant of the amount of time this Project has been in process and the strains the Project has placed on the surrounding community,” Dominion said in a March filing with the state detailing why it’s seeking a six-year extension.

During Thursday’s hearing, Collin Agee, a Holly Manor Drive resident, said work on the project started in 2016, five years ago.

The 2017 application approved by the state had the ability for an extension — provided it got the SCC’s approval. A May 31, 2020 deadline is currently suspended, according to the commission, a regulatory entity that has authority over utilities.

Tensions between Dominion and local interests have been developing, though, with the company proposing a new timetable to finish by Dec. 31, 2026. The project cost has also increased from around $107 million to $159 million as of February, according to the company.

The conflict continued at Thursday’s hearing, which will help the three-member commission make a determination. Hearing officer reports typically have a 21-day comment period by the formal parties in a case, according to the commission.

For homeowners like Andrew Laine and his wife, who plan to retire and relocate, that’s concerning. Laine said they previously rented their home for three years during the time the project began, and construction work behind their home led their family to say they wouldn’t have rented there if they had known about the extent of the project.

“Dominion has not been upfront with anything,” Laine said.

The three driving factors of the project are addressing power reliability regulations, increasing operational efficiency, and maximizing space for potential expansion, according to Dominion.

Dominion notes the project is located at two major overheard transmission corridors, an electrical transmission hub, and major distribution substation.

“Continuing to terminate lines and add load to the Idylwood Substation with [its current] arrangement would increase the severity of a breaker failure event,” the company said previously.

The rearrangement’s additional space could “accommodate potential future transmission terminations,” but there are no future transmission terminations and transformation planned at this time, Dominion said in the March SCC filing.

According to a Dominion project website, the existing Idylwood Station is on a 7.15-acre lot and the “existing equipment footprint” is 3.99 acres. The company seeks to reduce that equipment footprint to be around 2 acres.

Catarina Couto, the previous president of the Holly Crest Community Association, told Tysons Reporter that Dominion presented a project in 2013 with a much smaller footprint than what they were going to do. Couto said residents kept pushing for more information, and the company wasn’t forthright and honest with the neighborhood.

She asked the state at Thursday’s hearing to help neighbors in keeping the company accountable, arguing that 2026 was too long of a timetable.

“At this point, we have lost trust in Dominion’s ability to provide us with anything that is of tangible or valid information,” Cuoto said. “They have continuously pushed the agenda, they have received various…extensions, and they have caused our neighborhood great, great grief.”

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Morning Notes

County Board Approves PIVOT Grant Program — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday (June 8) to create a new grant program that will use $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will focus on the hotel, food service, retail, and arts and culture industries with applications scheduled to open from June 23 through July 9. [Fairfax County Government]

Armed Robberies Reported in Falls Church — Fairfax County police are investigating a series of armed robberies that have occurred in the 3300 block of Glenmore Drive since Saturday (June 5). In all four cases, a masked man described as white and between 17 to 25 years of age approached victims with a knife and demanded cash or property before running away. [FCPD]

Reckless Driving in Tysons Subject of Capitol Complaint — Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton is under investigation by the agency’s inspector general after a woman “recklessly” drove his work-issued vehicle around Tysons on March 6. A complaint says the vehicle was traveling at a high speed and made an unauthorized stop at Walmart, and the driver “made obscene gestures at the person who reported the incident.” [Roll Call]

Developer Starts Selection Process for Maryland Beltway Project — The development group selected to carry out Maryland’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway at the American Legion Bridge will launch a competitive procurement process on June 16 to identify design and construction contractors. The process will be watched by Virginia, particularly in McLean, as the Commonwealth moves forward with its 495 NEXT project. [Accelerate Maryland Partners]

Reminder: Idylwood Substation Public Hearing Tonight — The State Corporation Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. today (Thursday) on Dominion Energy’s plans to rebuild a substation in Idylwood. The project has been repeatedly delayed, and the utility company has proposed pushing the timeline for completion back even further to 2026. [SCC]

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Residents will have a new opportunity this summer to express their thoughts on Dominion Energy’s long-delayed effort to rebuild the Idylwood Substation at Shreve Road in Falls Church.

The State Corporation Commission has scheduled a hearing for June 10 at 7 p.m. after Fairfax County requested one in response to a new construction schedule that Dominion proposed earlier this year.

“My office and Fairfax County have strongly advocated for a new public hearing due to Dominion’s substantially delayed construction schedule,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said in a newsletter. “This will be an opportunity for the community to convey concerns and frustrations.”

Dominion will replace the existing substation that was built in the 1950s with a new “gas insulated substation” that accommodates growth in the area without expanding the substation’s footprint, a Dominion Energy spokeswoman said during a community meeting earlier this year.

The project dates back to 2014, but the timeline for completion has kept getting pushed out.

“The length of construction time estimated by the company has tripled — from three years in 2017 to now almost nine years in total,” the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said in a response to Dominion’s application to the SCC for a new in-service date. “The ‘end date’ that the residents were looking forward to — the date by which the daily disruption to their lives would be over — has jumped from mid-2020 to the end of 2026.”

During the virtual community meeting on Jan. 27, the Dominion spokesperson attributed the project delays to the permitting process, as well as an adjustment in scope and staffing changes. It is also a complex project, she said.

“Since Idylwood Substation is in an important area, it is necessary we keep most of the equipment energized while we work to keep reliable power in the Northern Virginia area,” her presentation said. “To perform this safely, we must work in limited space and even temporarily relocate certain equipment at times to install new equipment.”

This year, Dominion plans to tackle updating the building and begin construction on the first phase of a permanent brick wall along Shreve Road.

In its response submitted to the SCC on Feb. 23, the Board of Supervisors expressed appreciation for the status updates over the last eight months but said maintains its concerns “about the lack of urgency in the company’s commitment to actually completing this project.”

“The disruption and uncertainty of this process has taken a daily toll on the Idylwood community for years in the past and is now projected to continue for years in the future,” the board said. “The community deserves another chance to be heard publicly, especially given the radically different construction estimation that the company is now requesting this Commission approve.”

Here are the details for participating in the upcoming public hearing :

Telephonic Public Hearing Details:

Date: June 10, 2021 at 7 p.m.

To submit testimony:

To register to speak as a public witness in the proceeding, please submit the online Public Witness Form directly, OR complete and email PDF for PUR-2017-00002. Deadline to sign up is June 8.

To access audio for the hearing:

Visit: https://scc.virginia.gov/pages/Webcasting

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The Falls Church Kiwanis Little League is hoping not to strike out on a proposal to add new batting cages to a field at Idylwood Park between Falls Church and Tysons.

At a Fairfax County Parks Authority meeting tonight, the Kiwanis Little League is docketed to suggest adding three hitting stations to the field, with a concrete bases, heavy-duty cage netting, and synthetic turf mats.

“Hitting stations allow multiple players to practice their skills simultaneously in a safe, protected space,” a staff report said. “By making such efficient use of space, this improvement will alleviate some of the competing uses in this popular park.”

The Kiwanis Little League has raised $12,737.25 for the project, but is seeking a matching contribution from the county in the form of a Mastenbrook Grant, which provides up to $20,000 in matching funds for local park projects.

In its application for the grant program, the Kiwanis Little League says that players hoping to use batting cages currently have to travel to Arlington, and a new set of cages in Falls Church could help alleviate the demand.

In a supplement to its application, the league further explained the benefit of adding hitting cages at Idylwood Park, which is located on Virginia Lane:

Hitting stations would be an extremely popular recreational resource at Idylwood Park and many different groups would benefit from them including several hundred FCKLL members, local travel teams, middle and high school students, as well as the general public. They would provide a new year-round recreational and developmental resource for individuals, teams and the community at-large, without adding burden to fields. They are a practical and effective alternative to batting cages and allow multiple players to work out in a confined space, safely and at the same time. Equally important, it provides the community with another opportunity to be outside and engage in physical activity.

Image via Fairfax County

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After a few months of delays, Island Fin Poké Co., a fast-casual beach shack serving up Hawaiian-style poké, is slated to open in Falls Church on Jan. 18 to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The poké (pronounced “poh-kay”) restaurant at 7501 Leesburg Pike in Idylwood Plaza will be owned and operated by Bonita Bell and her husband Howard. Bell said in a press release that she is excited to offer jobs and a health-conscious concept to the community during these turbulent times.

“We are delighted and grateful to open up this business at this time in our vibrant community,” Bell said. “The continuing restrictions due to the pandemic will present challenges, but we are now more excited than ever to start the new year promoting positivity and healthy lifestyles.”

The Idylwood Plaza location was set to open in the fall, but was delayed until this month. The owners did not return Tysons Reporter’s request for comment on the delay before publication.

The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day, according to the chain’s website.

The husband-wife duo have also committed to opening an Island Fin Poké location in Vienna, targeted to open in 2022.

Bell, an African American entrepreneur, said she wants to encourage others to serve their communities on MLK Day. To promote the mindset that the occasion is “a day on, not a day off,” her Falls Church restaurant will donate 20% of its opening day sales to the nonprofit Food for Others.

“The past year has hit many people hard,” she said. “With so many jobs lost from restaurant closings, we are happy to provide job opportunities and to partner with Food for Others to support those who are struggling in our community.”

Like the overall restaurant industry, the pandemic has posed challenges to Island Fin Poké, but the Florida-based fast-casual chain is poised to continue growing, co-founder Mark Setterington said in a statement.

The Falls Church location is Island Fin Poké’s first in Virginia, increasing the chain’s presence in the greater Washington, D.C., area after it opened an outpost in Bowie, Md., last year.

“The DMV area is somewhere we are really excited to grow in,” Setterington said.

He described Bonita  as “the perfect addition to our ohana, as she reflects our mission to bring guests high-quality poke in an immersive and welcoming environment. For us, ohana is a way of life, and we want every guest that walks through our doors to know they are a part of the family.”

Photo courtesy Island Fin Poké Co. 

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Your days of parking your boat and camping trailer in the Idylwood neighborhood may be numbered.

If advertisement for a public hearing coming up on Tuesday, Oct. 6, is approved tomorrow, the Board of Supervisors will consider a potential ban on certain large vehicles in Idylwood — a residential neighborhood south of Tysons, sandwiched between I-495 and I-66.

According to County documents:

Fairfax County Code Section 82-5B-2 authorizes the Board to establish a CPD for the purpose of prohibiting or restricting the parking of the following vehicles on the streets in the CPD: watercraft; boat trailers; motor homes; camping trailers; and any other trailer or semi-trailer, regardless of whether such trailer or semi-trailer is attached to another vehicle; any vehicle with three or more axles; any vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 12,000 or more pounds, except school buses used on a current and regular basis to transport students; and any vehicle of any size that is being used in the transportation of hazardous materials as defined in Virginia Code § 46.2-341.4.

The ordinance would not apply to vehicles parked to discharge passengers, utility generators mounted on trucks, or vehicles parked for less than 48 hours to load up for a trip.

The new parking district is the result of a petition from residents of Idylwood.

Top photo via dave_7/Flicker, map via Fairfax County

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