As expected, Gov. Martin O’Malley on Saturday said his administration would reject any effort to put commercial wind turbines on public land managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.
O’Malley announced earlier in the week he would issue his stance on Saturday from scenic Mountain Run Overlook in Savage River State Forest. Given the location, it appeared unlikely to those in attendance that O’Malley would choose such a spot and tell the crowd that the view they were looking at wouldn’t be there in years to come.
Instead, O’Malley said the area’s scenic beauty was “too valuable to our state” to allow industrial wind energy facilities. But O’Malley’s praise of the natural environment came with a word of caution. He said his announcement should not be construed as an anti-wind energy position.
“This is not a rejection of wind power,” O’Malley said to state and local elected officials, DNR Secretary John Griffin and David Edgerley, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development. “The truth is, we have to find a mix of sustainable energy (sources).”
The announcement came after four months of public comment. DNR spokeswoman Olivia Campbell on Saturday said 83 percent of the roughly 1,400 responses voiced opposition to the project since January.
U.S. Wind Force, a Pennsylvania-based wind energy company, had sought to lease and clear nearly 400 acres in the Savage and Potomac state forests and construct about 100 wind turbines, each about 440 feet tall. Advocates of the project touted clean, renewable energy, the creation of jobs and some $30 million in revenue over 20 years.
O’Malley said the future of Maryland depended on distancing itself off the dependency of foreign oil. He said the resolution likely is a combination of a variety of alternative, renewable energy sources, including geothermal, wind and cellulosic ethanol.
In all, nearly 100 people attended the 45-minute presentation. After the meeting, Fannie Johnson, an Oakland native, thanked Griffin for helping to preserve “God’s country.”
Delegate Wendell Beitzel, who in January joined state Sen. George Edwards in opposing the placement of wind turbines on public lands, called O’Malley’s news “a wonderful announcement.”
“We were real concerned about the potential loss of our state parks and public lands,” Beitzel said.
“This city guy gets it,” Griffin told Beitzel of O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor.
Edgerley noted that projects such as the one proposed by U.S. Wind Force on Meadow Mountain could create jobs. But much of the criticism of this particular project was its placement on public land, he said.
“I think the issue of where they go has been resolved,” Edgerley said.
O’Malley noted that wind turbines could still be placed in Western Maryland – on land that is privately owned or owned by federal, state or county governments.
Former state Sen. John Bambacus, an opponent of wind turbines on state land, felt his concerns had been listened to by local officials and O’Malley, who noted Bambacus’ effort during his remarks. Bambacus said he woke up Saturday morning “cautiously optimistic” about O’Malley’s announcement.
It would have been a shame to violate the natural beauty of the area, the retired Frostburg State University professor said. He said he brought groups of students up to Monroe Overlook for years and walked the five-mile trail teaching the younger generation about the area.
“This is my favorite place in the whole world,” Bambacus said. “This is who we are.”
In an e-mailed statement, wind-power industry spoke-sman Frank Maisano said he was “disappointed” about O’Malley’s decision. He said it was important to view the announcement in a larger context.
“It has always been our top priority to advance the wind projects on private land, which are in more advanced stages of development,” Maisano said. “While all wind development is important to advance the state’s policy goals, these private-land wind projects still remain at the front of the line.”
By Kevin Spradlin
13 April 2008
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