Gov. O’Malley’s decision to not allow wind turbines to be constructed on state forest lands was certainly good news for Garrett County. However, the fact that destruction of the last remaining bits of wilderness in Maryland was even seriously considered is a sad testament to how crazy the whole debate over wind energy in Western Maryland has become.
And let there be no doubt that wind developers will now be redoubling their efforts to construct ever-larger wind turbines on private lands wherever they can find landowners gullible enough to sign away their property forever and severely devalue their neighbors’ property, for a few thousand dollars of annual rental income.
Since there are no federal, state or local regulations prohibiting or restricting the placement of wind turbines on private or county-owned lands in Garrett County, and since the legislature in 2007 stripped away all Public Service Commission oversight, any group of investors or LLC, no matter how undercapitalized, incompetent, shady or unscrupulous, may erect hundreds of the largest, most complex and environmentally destructive structures ever built in Garrett County on any forested ridge it chooses, at will.
This will become the fate of Garrett County if nothing is done locally to stop them. Fortunately, there is something that can be done, if our public officials will only exercise the courage and good judgment their responsibilities of office dictate.
According to William Wantz, one of the best land use attorneys in Western Maryland, an ordinance prohibiting or restricting the construction of wind turbines anywhere in the County may be enacted by simple majority vote of the Garrett County Commissioners. It does NOT require comprehensive county-wide zoning and is specifically permitted under the 2007 legislation removing PSC oversight.
Recently the county Planning Commission narrowly rejected (by a 4-3 vote) recommending just such an ordinance to the commissioners. This rejection was presumably based upon their belief that the only way to restrict wind turbines was to establish county-wide zoning. This is simply incorrect. Hopefully, when this fact is validated, the Planning Commission will be able to approve the ordinance and the commissioners will do the same.
It is no secret that the commissioners may attempt to use this simple performance zoning ordinance as a “red herring” to once again try to implement countywide comprehensive zoning. Let’s be clear – there is absolutely no need for this and it should be rejected out of hand.
If nothing is done, in a few years Garrett County will be littered with hundreds of massive industrial wind turbines, 400-500 feet tall, with blade diameters spanning more than a football field, strung along the ridgetops in every sector of the county. Their slowly turning blades, flashing lights and relentless noise will permeate and come to define the county.
It will be irreversible. There will be no place to escape. It will no longer be a good place to live. We will be ever sorry if we let this happen.
Vincent A. Collins
25 April 2008
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