Perhaps a proposal to build an oil refinery in a national park would draw a crowd this angry. Or maybe not. It would have to be a very popular park.
About 500 people packed a public hearing in Western Maryland tonight to protest a plan to build 40-story wind turbines in state forests. A Pennsylvania-based company, U.S. Wind Force, would like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration to lease the firm about 400 acres of Savage River and Potomac state forests to build 100 wind mills. But before the state considers this, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources must decide on a general policy: are wind turbines an appropriate use of public lands?
“No!” was the answer from the crowd tonight in the Garrett College auditorium in McHenry. An overwhelming majority of people spoke out against the idea, saying the tall industrial machinery would forever mar the forested mountains that are the soul and economic heart of Western Maryland.
There is another side to this question, of course. Maryland has no wind farms, and could use clean electricity to help fight against global warming. If companies can already harvest lumber from state forests, why can’t they harvest wind? But what was surprising tonight – in the hot, overflowing, standing-room-only, elbow-to-elbow, leaky-roofed college auditorium in McHenry – was how few people made this argument. No environmental groups showed up to testify in favor of putting wind turbines in state forests. No climate activists raised their voices. None. Where were they? I suppose some might appear at a second hearing on the same subject planned at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 31) at 44 Calvert St. in Annapolis.
Or maybe the silence is because environmentalists – even those who support wind power – aren’t all that crazy about the idea of ripping up the few remaining forests in a sprawl-covered state like Maryland for a little bit more electricity. Maybe private farms are a better place for wind farms.
After more than a dozen irate Western Marylanders spoke out against the U.S. Wind Force proposal tonight, the company’s spokesman, Frank Maisano, stepped up to the microphone and was taunted, whistled at and shouted down. It wasn’t pretty.
“This is not only about Garrett County. It’s about Maryland, our country and the world. It’s about our future,” said Maisano, speaking calmly into the microphone as the crowd grew restless. “We need more and cleaner energy from wind.”
“Times up!” people in the crowd yelled.
Maisano continued. “As residents of Maryland, these public lands belong to all of us,” Maisano said. “I say these lands are mine as much as everyone else’s…They are much the lands of Cecil and Wicomico counties as everyone else.”< "Build them there!" a man yelled from the back of the auditorium. "Wind power will provide the cleanest and most reliable energy for our region," Maisano said. Jeff Conner, a local resident, stood up and pointed to Maisano, suggesting that his opinion had been purchased. "How much money did you get paid to come up here to speak today?" Conner demanded. Afterwards, out in the hallway, Maisano -- who also represents coal-fired power plants and the electric utility industry --said he's used to worse abuse. Wearing a black Sierra Club baseball cap, Maisano, who works for the high-powered Washington lobbying firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, said he's had to stand up in front of crowds out West and make the pitch for coal-burning generators. He said that was worse. I had to run in and out of the hearing to file my story for the newspaper, so I didn't hear every single person's testimony. But I heard the first 15 speakers and the only one -- besides Maisano -- who spoke out clearly in favor of the proposal was William E. Llewellyn, an engineer with the firm CME Engineering. He said those who oppose wind turbines on state land were poorly informed. "What better place than lands owned by the general public to generate electricity used by the general public?" he asked. Here is what other folks told John Griffin, the state's secretary of Natural Resources, as he listened attentively and patiently to every last person in the audience who wanted to speak. James Stanton, chairman of the Garrett County Democratic Central Committee, said that the construction of 100 "monster" turbines, each taller than the tallest building in Baltimore, is not an appropriate use of state green space. "As a matter of good public policy, state forests should not be used for this purpose," Stanton said. "The proposed large turbines and propellers, 40 stories tall…(would be) the reverse of the 'leave no trace' philosophy embraced by the Department of Natural Resources." "It’s the very character of the mountains…and the state forests that define who we are," said state Del. Wendell Beitzel, a Republican from Garrett County whose ancestors grew up the rural area. "I beseech you to relay to the governor and other people that we don’t want wind turbines on our land in Western Maryland." Charlie Ross, head of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, said: "Please reject this proposal." "What calculus of economic benefits can possibly justify destroying our public land forever?" asked John N. Bambacus, a former state senator from Western Maryland who has been active in rallying Garrett County business and political leaders against the leasing of state forests. "After the useful life of these 400 foot monstrosities, what happens?...Will they be here forever -- as a horrible testament to Maryland’s once renowned national reputation for environmental stewardship?" Baltimore conservationist Ajax Eastman said: "Maryland's public lands belong to all Maryland citizens, not to private companies… The citizens of Maryland need to speak up and defend our land from further commercialization and industrialization....Our lands need to be protected from permanent destruction." Carl Lee, a seventh generation Garrett County resident, said: "As my forefathers enjoyed our mountain views, so have I...If we allow this to happen, who knows where it is going to end?" Richard Orr, president of the Garrett County Board of Realtors, said: "The owners of Maryland’s public lands treasure them far more than you expected. And they absolutely do not want them transformed into industrial landscapes." Another longtime Western Maryland resident, Floyd A. Ellis, compared a row of turbines cutting through the woods to a ragged scar on the landscape. "I love Garrett County...This is going to be an open scar…This is going to be a big scar, a big three bladed sucker looking at you every morning." Fred Schaich said: "State parks belong to the residents…If you put these wind turbines up and cut all that timber down, what happens to all that natural habitat that used to live there?" Anne Arowitz said "I strongly oppose wind mill construction on public land....Yes, we need green energy. But green is a relative concept...They are not green in the environmental degradation that will result." After the hearing tomorrow night in Annapolis, the state Department of Natural Resources will study the public input and create a policy sometime this spring. By Tom Pelton Bay & Environment/The Baltimore Sun
30 January 2008
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