U.S. Wind Force officials have asked Gov. Martin O’Malley for leases in Potomac and Savage River state forests so they can clear up to 400 acres and construct about 100 40-story tall wind turbines on ridgelines, according to The Baltimore Sun.
“I’m opposed to putting these things on state land,” Del. Wendell Beitzel said, following a discussion on legislative issues with Garrett County officials and Sen. George Edwards last Thursday. Beitzel said he wanted to alert the county commissioners about his position, as they were going to be “hit” with the proposal.
“It’s going to be a real controversial issue,” Beitzel said.
State land and forests contribute to the overall well-being of the county, and they should be preserved for future generations to enjoy, the delegate said. He added that he has no problem with wind turbines on private property.
“Isn’t it somewhat ironic that they’ve proposed that?” Commissioner Ernie Gregg posed about turbines on state land. He noted that the county has been trying for some time now to get approval to dig a water well on state land to benefit the Keyser’s Ridge Industrial Park and northern Garrett County residents.
Beitzel also noted how difficult it is to get approval to cut trees and to spray for gypsy moths on state lands for environmental reasons.
“Now they’re talking about putting wind turbines on state land,” he said.
“This issue is probably going to be driven by the governor anyway,” Edwards said. “But I think we need to have some input.”
He said the stratification of the land, its classifications, the location of existing roads and potential new roads, wind direction, and other issues need to be looked at first before determining if the turbines should or should not be built on state land.
“I think you need to go slow and look at all of these things before you make a decision,” Edwards said.
Commissioner Fred Holliday said he has always been for wind power. He asked if the turbines would be taxed as personal property under the county’s tax structure, even though they would be on state land.
Edward said that if the wind turbine company does not have to pay the county tax under current law, he will introduce a bill stating that it does.
County officials also asked the lawmakers to introduce four pieces of legislation during the next General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 9, 2008, in Annapolis.
Financial Services director Wendy Yoder asked Beitzel and Edwards to secure legislative authority for the county to bond/finance up to $10 million for capital improvement projects.
“Over the next couple of fiscal years, we are facing a great amount of capital outlay, capital expenditures, particularly in 2009,” Yoder said.
The ’09 projects include a detention center, animal control center, public works facility, and a sewer system for the Keyser’s Ridge Industrial Park.
Yoder said the county can be classified as a “small issuer” under the Internal Revenue Service tax code. This means the county will be eligible for the lowest possible interest rate, she said, but the maximum amount that it can borrow is $10 million within a calendar year.
The county introduced a similar bond bill in 1998, allowing the county to borrow up to $1.5 million for an economic development project, Yoder noted.
Rodney Glotfelty and Kendra Todd of the Garrett County Health Department asked Edwards and Beitzel to support a bill that addresses youth access to tobacco.
The legislation would prohibit the distribution of certain tobacco products, cigarette rolling papers, and tobacco related coupons to minors in Garrett County. It would also outline new procedures and penalties for those who sell the products to minors.
The purpose of the legislation is to make it easier for agencies to enforce youth access policies and to prosecute violators. Glotfelty noted that most retailers/clerks are law abiding and do not routinely sell tobacco products to minors.
“But there are still a few bad apples out there,” he said.
Director John Nelson, Planning and Land Development, also asked for a bill that will give the commissioners authority to establish agriculture preservation districts at the county level so that landowners can take advantage of a tax credit program.
Nelson explained that beginning July 1, 2008, the state will no longer accept applications for ag districts. Additionally, those districts currently in effect that have not gone to “next level” and sold their easements will be terminated on June 30, 2012. As a result, landowners will lose a potential tax credit.
The local ag district program would be structured similar to the one that the state currently has, Nelson said, but the districts would be required only to last for a period of three years instead of five. After the three-year period, district landowners, if they chose to, could then sell their easements.
Locally formed districts would enable property owners to benefit from a local tax credit and give them time to become familiar with the parameters of the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation program before they sell their easements, Nelson indicated.
The county commissioners also asked Beitzel and Edwards to see if action is needed to repeal a previously approved local bill concerning gaming activities, as the county has now decided not to enact the regulations outlined in that legislation.
Edwards said he would check. Depending on the wording of the legislation, no action may be needed, he said.
“We’ll do everything we can to get these things taken care of in Annapolis,” Beitzel said about the county’s list of legislative requests.
He told the commissioners he will also reintroduce legislation that would allow outdoor furnace use in certain areas outside municipalities. The delegate filed the bill last year, but withdrew it after the Maryland Department of the Environment objected.
Beitzel said the MDE wanted to see what guidelines the federal government came up with before addressing the issue.
Though businesses may sell outdoor furnaces in Maryland, it is currently against the law for residents to use them. If someone complains that a furnace is being used, the MDE will investigate.
Beitzel said he has not heard from the MDE about the federal guidelines, but will reintroduce the bill anyway.
“If nothing else, to bring some attention to the issue,” he said.
Betizel and Edwards will hold a pre-legislative meeting this Saturday, Dec. 15, at 10 a.m. in the Garrett College auditorium to hear constituents’ concerns about the upcoming General Assembly session.
13 December 2007
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