So many people have flooded the Maryland Department of Natural Resources with emails, calls and letters about a proposal to build wind turbines in state forests that the agency has been forced to find a larger venue for its public hearing.
“We’ve had a lot of interest expressed, so we changed the date,” said Olivia Campbell, spokeswoman for the state wildlife agency. “We are making it easier for the public to participate. We realize a lot of people have passion on both sides.”
A Pennsylvania company, U.S. Wind Force, is asking the state for leases in Potomac and Savage River state forests so it can clear about 400 mountaintop acres and erect about 100 wind turbines, each about 40 stories tall. The turbines would be visible from Deep Creek Lake and much of Western Maryland.
The agency has moved the first public hearing from an elementary school, which had a small capacity, to the larger Garrett College Auditorium at 687 Mosser Road in McHenry. This hearing has been moved back a week, from the original Jan. 23 date to Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.
The second hearing, also postponed for a week, will now be will held at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in Room 161 of the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St. in Annapolis.
Feedback is pouring into the state agency, which is accepting online comments here.
Some people have expressed strong opposition to the idea of letting developers rip up state forests and build tall industrial machines. Others strongly support the idea of using state property to generate clean, pollution-free electricity.
One side of the debate was crystalized recently by Mike Tidwell, a climate change activist who wrote an opinion piece that ran in The Sun on Dec. 26. Feel free to read the whole thing here. But in part, he wrote: “With ominous global warming accelerating year after year, why can’t Maryland construct a single clean-energy wind farm within its borders? Gov. Martin O’Malley’s blue-ribbon commission says we must get off fossil fuel very soon. But our state – one of the most vulnerable in America to global warming and one of the most politically liberal – can’t achieve even the baby step of a single commercial wind farm. What’s the problem? West Virginia has dozens of wind turbines; Pennsylvania even more.”
The other side was expressed by John Bambacus, a former state senator from Western Maryland and Mayor of Frostburg. He wrote the following essay:
“TILTING AT WINDMILLS
For all of us who cherish the beauty and natural qualities of Allegany and Garrett Counties, our citizens have a responsibility to seriously question the State of Maryland government as public officials negotiate with the company, U.S. Wind Force, to erect 100 industrial wind turbines, each the size of the Washington Monument in our mountains. The towering 400 ft. monstrosities will be visible from Deep Creek Lake, the Savage River Reservoir, and most of Garrett County. To place these turbines on our ridge-tops would mean the permanent destruction of at least 400 acres of public land, wildlife habitat, and forest ecology in the Savage River State Forest and Potomac State Forest. Environmental quality and scenic beauty would be thrown to the winds.
Clearly, no one would deny the importance of protecting our ecosystems by addressing serious issues such as climate change and carbon sequestration, and Governor O’Malley is to be commended for initiating such a discussion. Scientists are focusing on bio-energy as an economic alternative to fossil fuels.
How these potential adaptations impact our region need to be based on careful study and science, not symbolic pressure from “feel good” administration and legislative policymakers in Annapolis.
Where is our sense of public purpose? Does the Governor really understand the unintended consequences of helping his friends and their lobbyists in the wind industry through the blatant destruction of public land belonging to the citizens of Maryland? There is no established, thorough regulatory authority for the industrial wind power industry in place in Allegany or Garrett Counties. Since there are no comprehensive ordinances in place, does anyone really know what we are getting into? In my judgment, it is in the public interest for the state to immediately place at least a 180 day moratorium on wind energy permitting and construction throughout the state while investigation and planning takes place.
Most importantly, and not really surprising, is the indisputable fact that little has been done in the area of planning and policy development at the local, state, and national levels of government on erecting wind farms on public lands. Has any one at the municipal, county, or state level given any thought to what constitutes protection of public health and safety for siting and operating these giant 400 foot industrial turbines with capacities of 1.65 to 2 megawatts of power? There is a lack of planning capacity in rural Allegany and Garrett Counties, as well as the rest of the Maryland, to deal with this complex issue, and the state does not seem to want to provide any assistance or do much to stand in the way of the wind developers.
Let’s face it, from a statewide perspective Western Maryland is the place of least resistance. While off-shore sites are much more conducive to providing wind energy than our Appalachian highlands, Governor Martin O’Malley, Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources John Griffin and U.S. Wind Force recognize that the Atlantic Ocean at Ocean City is an unacceptable site to most Marylanders. This is true in other regions of the east coast as well. President Bush and his family opposed wind turbines off the coast at Kennebunkport and Senator Kennedy and his family resisted wind farms off of Hyannis Port. The mountain ridges of Garrett and Allegany Counties are one of the state’s most inspirational natural resources and are just as important.
We certainly don’t know the extent of adverse impacts on wildlife habitats, air and water resources, not to mention significant recreational and tourism concerns. Once these monstrous machines are erected they are here forever. What we need to do is to actively protect the few undeveloped areas left in Maryland. Indeed, if 100 wind turbines are permitted in our state forests, you can bet that more will be on the horizon.
Make no mistake about it. This is the seminal reason industrial wind turbine companies and the State of Maryland are moving so quickly—NO REGULATION.
There is a planned public hearing for citizen input on this issue. The Governor and DNR, rather than schedule a hearing on whether or not to issue a permit, should first do their own study on the impact of wind-energy development on public land in our state forests and present this information to the public.
This scheduled hearing should be postponed or cancelled until the State does its homework and draws its conclusions based on science and not politics and campaign contributions.
Recent deplorable actions in Annapolis this past legislative session, under the guise of encouraging renewable energy and a more streamlined permit process, in reality did away with much of the public hearing process and broad review by the state. Interestingly, opposing these changes were the Department of Natural Resources, the Chesapeake Foundation, the Maryland Conservation Council, and other environmental groups. They were no match for Governor O’Malley, Senate President Mike, Miller, Speaker Mike Busch, former speaker now-turned wind lobbyist Cas Taylor, and former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and wind energy developer Wayne Rogers.
What is needed now is a no-compromise approach to preserving and conserving our state forest land as we know it. This hearing should not be an opening for a permit to destroy our state forests forever, but rather a declaration once and for all that they are off-limits. Like Governor Ehrlich, Governor O’Malley needs to take the selling of state land to his developer friends off the table, for it is not his to sell.
For centuries, Marylanders from the Chesapeake to Appalachia, and the State and its Department of Natural Resources have embraced the values of ecology, environmental stewardship and conservation of its resources.
If Governor O’Malley and DNR Secretary Griffin allow these monster turbines to be built in our protected state forests they will have destroyed not only their legacy as stewards of the land they are sworn to protect, but Maryland’s national reputation for environmental leadership and woodland conservation.
REMEMBER, U.S. WIND FORCE AND OTHER INDUSTRIAL WIND TURBINE COMPANIES ARE INTERESTED ONLY IN PROFIT, STATE AND FEDERAL SUBSIDIES, AND TAX BREAKS—NOT THE COMMON VALUE OF THE PUBLIC GOOD.
If you really care about the essential and truly fundamental notion of public land forest stewardship and all that is natural and wild, please plan on attending one or both of the public hearings scheduled by DNR, at the behest of U.S. Wind Force, at the Garrett College Auditorium on Wednesday, January 30, at 6:30 p.m., or at the Arundel Center in Annapolis on Thursday, January 31, at 6:30 p.m.
John N. Bambacus
Mr. Bambacus is a former state senator, mayor, and professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Frostburg State University. He also served on the Governor’s Commission on State Forests.
Posted by Tom Pelton
7 January 2008