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Ridgeline regulations could prevent wind farm development

The draft comprehensive plan approved by the Garrett County Planning Commission considers ridgelines as a sensitive area in need of protection, which could prevent the development of wind turbines if the plan is passed and regulations are put in place.

“The next series of changes we would need to make would be to our regulations themselves,” John Nelson, director of Planning and Land Development, said at the Wednesday planning commission meeting. “This text makes recommendations to that effect. … We’re looking at the adoption of this plan around July 1.”

Nelson recommended that projects proposed for ridges should be analyzed further and the potential impact on economics and the environment, particularly that of run-off, should be studied.

This was one of the more major changes to the draft plan, based upon public commentary during the planning process.

Nelson said that approval of the plan by the planning commission, which was done unanimously during the meeting, would allow for it to go through the clearinghouse process at the state level for approval from various departments there.

If that is completed within a timely manner with no complications, the plan could be ready for the county commissioners’ approval as early as July. To implement the recommendations into regulations for sensitive areas, like the ridge tops, could take anywhere from six months to one year.

Barbara Boone of Oakland said that the regulations, as recommended in the comprehensive plan, wouldn’t be enough to zone areas where wind turbines could be placed properly.

“Possibly by July 1 of 2009, we’ll have some regulations in place,” Boone said. “By that time, there could be several hundred wind turbines in Garrett County. Certainly the proverbial ‘shovel in the ground’ by that time.”

Joe McRobie, commission member, questioned how the commission could step in and tell property owners and the power companies what they can build and where after there has already been an exchange of money.

“All laws regulate what you can do with your property,” Boone said. “All laws are for the purpose of communal living. If your property right injures someone else, it’s not just about your property. It’s about your neighbor.”

Nelson said that the approved plan would be available on the county Web site as soon as possible.

By Sarah Moses

Cumberland Times-News

18 April 2008