Statements made during the recent Allegany County Planning and Zoning Commission work session Monday – and some that were not – caught the attention of two people who have argued their cases on related issues both here and in Garrett County.
Jeff Hutter, president of Two-Way Radio in Cumberland, was concerned that some commission members suggested wind turbine contractors should be bonded for the removal and cleanup of the sites. His concern was compounded when a second commission member recommended including cell phone towers and other structures in a proposed study related to wind turbines.
Hutter said he fought that battle in 2001, but the motion didn’t pass the “common sense test and died.”
“First thing I said, (they) should name all the abandoned towers,” Hutter said. “There (were) none. Show me the abandoned buildings.”
Too many to count, he said.
“This is dumb. Let’s not even go there,” Hutter said of the idea at the time.
Hutter’s position hasn’t changed in the last seven years. His company is required to purchase bonds for individual projects. But the cost of a bond for cleanup, he said, would cause a project’s cost to soar as towers last 20, 30, even 40 years.
“I think that’s dumber than a box of rocks,” Hutter said. “We put up and take down towers on a regular basis. Getting a tower down and cleaning a site is nothing when compared to what you’d run into with some of these old buildings.”
Just as he did in 2001, Hutter argued Friday that forcing cellular companies to post bonds isn’t sensible.
“We don’t have complete (cellular) coverage in Allegany County,” Hutter said. “On one hand, we’re beating the snot out of these cell companies saying we want more coverage. It doesn’t make sense. If there was a compelling reason where hundreds of abandoned towers are falling down and killing people, I’d say, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to do it.’ ”
Hutter said 90 to 95 percent of the cell towers on Dan’s Mountain are operational. The rest of what motorists see as they travel Interstate 68 are private or government radio towers or those for utility companies.
“There might be one or two that aren’t being used,” Hutter said. “I’m kind of surprised about this. (The commission) should have done a little more research.”
Hutter said he fears the “unintended consequences” of quickly drafted ordinances for or against wind turbines. So does John Bambacus, who was formerly a state senator and Frostburg mayor. After nearly 40 years in public service, he plans to ask the county planning commission June 18 to declare a six-month moratorium on any applications for wind turbines, residential or industrial, to allow county officials time to decide what should be allowed, where and under what constraints, if any.
“What I have found as I have become involved in this issue for the last year or so is that in other parts of the country, it’s moving at warp speed,” Bambacus said. “There needs to be adequate safeguards to protect the public environmentally, as well as for public health (and) public safety, especially in industrial turbines being proposed in this region. Some of these will be as high as 440 or 460 feet … The fact there are no safeguards in place whatsoever in Garrett County and only modestly in Allegany County … it seems to me that rural areas have to be on their toes. They’ve got to be ahead of things because what happens is the turbine companies and the electrical generators – billion-dollar operations – come into an area (and) hit so quickly.”
The current ordinance in Allegany County defines wind energy conversion systems, wind farms and wind turbines. It declares that wind energy conversion systems are a “principal permitted use” in an agricultural, forestry and mining district and in a conservation district.
“A buffer equal to two times the height of the structure from occupied structures on adjacent lots, and a minimum setback from all property lines of a distance equal to or greater than the structure’s height” is required.
Bambacus has told Phil Hager, county planning coordinator, he’s not satisfied. County ordinances don’t address the noise made by wind turbines and don’t offer the safeguards of nearby Somerset County, Pa. There, the required setback is five times the turbine’s hub height from an occupied building on an adjacent property.
“There’s no question we need to be prepared for this,” Bambacus said. “As it is right now, the responsiveness of (the Planning Commission), to me are strong indications that they care about this matter and they want to take a look at it.”
The commission is expected to discuss the authorization of a study to review county ordinances and other information in communities where wind turbine industrial facilities are built. Hager said the study should consider a project’s economic impact, including job creation, as well as the potential for lower energy costs, and the effect of wind farms on the natural habitat and wildlife.
8 June 2008