About 20 local residents met with the Garrett County commissioners on Tuesday to discuss a paragraph in the current draft of the county’s proposed new comprehensive plan. The document is being developed by the local Planning Commission, the county’s Planning and Land Development Department, and a contracted consulting firm, Environmental Resources Management (ERM).
“I was disappointed to see that,” said Oakland resident Jon Boone about a passage pertaining to wind turbines. He said he preferred that it not be in the plan at all.
He has testified before the Public Service Commission several times, opposing wind turbines being built on private land. He has also voiced his opposition in recent weeks to the structures being placed on state lands.
The paragraph that Boone referred to notes that a turbine project has been proposed along the southern end of Backbone Mountain, “one of several sites in Garrett County that are suitable for wind power because of strong steady winds.”
It is noted in the passage that use of wind power for energy has been controversial in Maryland and that concerns have been raised about its effect on wildlife, scenic views, property values, and other aspects.
“While the county acknowledges the potential negative impacts of wind power facilities, it also recognizes the benefits, especially those related to clean, sustainable power generation, and the socioeconomic and fiscal benefits to the county,” the paragraph reads. “On balance, the county supports wind pow-er at appropriate location, provided any site-specific negative impacts can be mitigated.”
“It’s utter nonsense,” Boone said about the “cleaning-burning” phrase, noting that wind turbines have to be used in conjunction with “dirty” traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas. He also questioned the “socioeconomic and fiscal benefits to the county.”
“And you all – without any kind of hearing, without any kind of expert testimony – put in the language of the comprehensive plan that ‘we’ believe these are the benefits,” Boone told the commissioners.
He said there were already 240 to 290 wind turbines “in the works” for Garrett County, including 100 being proposed for state lands. Companies that have expressed interest in building the turbines include Clipper Wind (now called Constellation Energy), Synergics, and U.S. Wind Force.
“This will be a major development; it will transform the county in major ways,” Boone said, noting that the structures would be taller than all but three buildings in Baltimore City.
He asked why there was no public input sought before the passage was included in the draft.
Commission chair Denny Glotfelty said the reason that it had not been before the public was because public hearings for the plan have not been held yet. He added that the plan is for looking into the future and explained that ERM asked the commissioners if they would support putting the passage into the plan.
“We’re the ones who made the final say to go ahead and leave it in there because we have to recognize it (wind turbine construction) because there is no zoning to stop it,” Glotfelty said.
“But why have it in there in the first place?” Boone asked. He also asked how the passage got into the draft. “What agency put it in there?” he asked.
“It was brought in to us to look at because wind mills are a situation in Garrett County right now,” said Commissioner Fred Holliday. “It’s a potential thing that when you’re drawing up a plan, you need to address at some point. … When you’re doing a plan you have to look to the future to see what is going to be or not going to be problematic.”
“The county already has a Heritage Plan that you published in 2003 that has been approved by the state, designating the entire county as a heritage resource. How do you square that plan with this language?” asked Barbara Boone, referring to the turbine passage in the comprehensive plan.
She also noted that the structures were industrial wind turbines, not wind mills. “Words are important,” she said.
“The important word here is ‘plan,'” Glotfelty said. “And we have plenty of public hearings coming in the future. We’re looking at adopting a comprehensive plan. This is a draft, and you need to go to the public hearings when we have them.”
Paul Durham proposed another option to take the issue off the commissioners’ “desk” and put it back “in the hands” of the Planning Commission. He noted that the comprehensive plan was still in the draft stage and suggested that local residents be allowed to sit down with the committee and draft a turbine passage that was representative of public opinion, not the commissioners’.
John Bambacus also asked the commissioners to do three things:
•Say “no” to industrial wind turbines on public land in state forests now.
•Declare an immediate six-month moratorium on site and construction permits.
•Development appropriate ordinances, regulations, and emergency measures to protect the public safety and health of Garrett County citizens.
Glotfelty said the commissioners were sticking with their decision to wait until after the Department of Natural Resources held hearings this week on placing wind turbines on state land.
Following the meeting, county administrator Monty Pagenhardt reiterated the commissioners’ position by stating, “The reason there is language in the draft comp plan update on wind power is that two wind power projects have been approved for Garrett County, with the commissioners’ support, Clipper and Synergics. Therefore, it is appropriate to include language in the update acknowledging that wind power will have a presence in the county and outlining some of the considerations, concerns, impacts, etc.”
The comprehensive plan draft is available online at co.garrett.md.us/PlanningLand/PlanningZoning/Planning.aspx.
31 January 2008
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