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Tiny Town Takes Shot Against Henrico Utility

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Call it a gutsy David-vs.-Goliath move. On July 13, the tiny Surry County town of Dendron (population 300) launched a well-aimed stone at plans by a Henrico County-based utility giant to build a $6 billion coal-fired electric generation plant in town.

That pebble — a vote to form the town's first-ever planning commission — could knock out Old Dominion Electric Cooperative's plans to build its plant. Or, it may make the giant and its lawyers angry.

“This is designed to make Dendron make Dendron's decisions,” says Dot Hewitt, a member of the city council that voted 3-2 to create the planning commission. Hewitt, who opposes the utility's controversial project proposal, says that if Dendron didn't create a zoning process, the matter would have been turned over to Surry County officials. County leaders likely would approve the generating station, she says.

Old Dominion spokesman Jeb Hockman says that the Dendron Planning Commission actually makes things easier “because now we know where to send our proposal to.” But some Dendron residents fear their council's move could set the town up for a nasty legal fight with the cooperative — a fight that could quickly drain the town's meager finances.

City residents have broached the idea of seeking financial help from groups such as Appalachian Voices, which is part of a coalition fighting Dominion Resources' proposed $1.5 billion coal-fired plant in Wise County in Southwest Virginia.

Dendron residents who oppose the plant hope that deep-pocketed environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council might step up. Both groups fight new coal plants because they're considered polluting and contribute to global warming.

Tom Cormons, a lawyer in Charlottesville with Appalachian Voices, says that his group has talked about providing help, but declines to offer details. “These people are simply trying to maintain the current status of their town,” he says. “ODEC would not have a leg to stand on.”

Glen Besa of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club says his group has also had informal discussions with Dendron residents.

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