With more than 50 people in attendance, Garrett County residents were given the opportunity Thursday to voice their opinions on the proposed Clipper Windpower project on Backbone Mountain and a possible exemption from the traditional Public Service Commission review processes.
“There are so many issues regarding wind turbines built in Garrett County,” Russell Bounds said. “I’m opposed to them for numerous reasons. … We’re considered the rural minority. They can say it makes a difference. It’s hardened neighbors and made people angry at one another.”
Bounds was one of several to speak at the hearing held in the Garrett College gymnasium about the project proposed on Backbone Mountain.
Originally proposed in 2002 as a 100 megawatt project with 47 turbines, Clipper has downsized that request to 70 megawatts and 28 turbines. The project is seeking an exemption from the review process through legislation passed last year.
Opposed to the project as well as the exemption, Bounds spoke not only to what the debate has done within the county, but to real estate.
He said that as someone who works in real estate, he has seen wind turbines bring down property values. He also said real estate is “one of the biggest investments people make” and this “investment” can be affected by at least 25 percent and people are less likely to purchase in an area with planned turbine development.
Several who spoke said construction of turbines would negatively affect the view and “beauty” of the area.
Steven Friend of Oakland, however, said that he was in favor of the turbines, comparing their construction to the development around Deep Creek Lake.
“If you had property on the lake and wanted to build a mini-motel there, do you think I have any right to tell you no?” Friend said.
Friend, who said he was one of the closest residents to the proposed site, said the turbines were a better use of the land and better for the area animals than large development.
George Futch of Swanton made a similar point, asking the crowd, “What do you think of three- to four-story condos?”
For some, the question was not just the turbines, but the proposal that had been submitted by Clipper Windpower.
Paul Durham of Oakland said the area had been placed in an “information vacuum” because the application for the project that had been available for the public online was not complete and parts referenced were missing, including where the project would be placed on the mountain.
Durham also referenced Kevin Rackstraw, spokes-man for Clipper, who said earlier in the evening that the project had been tested in the courts of Maryland already, with the project being approved in three of four cases and the fourth currently still in litigation.
Durham said that was not true, as the project that had been taken to court was the original, larger project with shorter turbines. Durham said he questioned if the Department of Natural Resources study on the effects to the avian population would still be true with the turbines that will be 15 feet higher.
Jim Stanton of Oakland mentioned points made by Rackstraw during Clipper’s presentation that night, saying that claims made by the company that there would be four to six good-paying jobs didn’t hold up. He said that in other wind power openings currently in the area, the salary offered was around $18,000. He added that other positions in the construction of the turbines would last only about a year.
Jeffery Conner, of the Avilton area, said that he wanted clear answers to what the guidelines would be for the turbines.
“How tall is too tall for wind turbines?” Conner said. “How noisy is too noisy for wind turbines? How close is too close?”
Many who spoke in opposition to the turbines said they didn’t feel enough was being done at a local level to ensure the public interest was being served or that those opposed were being “heard” by the county and local government.
The construction of the turbines, if the exemption to the review process is approved, is planned to begin in spring of 2009, Rackstraw said, with the project complete by fall or winter of the same year.
For those wishing to submit further commentary, the PSC has extended the comment deadline 30 days due to a request from the Garrett County commissioners. The new cut-off date for commentary is April 7.
By Sarah Moses
7 March 2008
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