OAKLAND – Major construction on a Garrett County wind farm remains at a standstill more than one week after state environmental officials ordered a halt over violations related to water runoff and soil erosion controls.
On Aug. 25 the Maryland Department of the Environment ordered Annapolis-based developer Synergics and contractor White Construction Company to stop work on the site until proper erosion and sediment controls are installed.
MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said the developer was allowed to proceed with some electrical work Wednesday, but the stop work order remains in effect for any activities that require earth moving.
“All work may resume on the project when MDE determines that the site is in compliance with the approved sediment and erosion control plan,” he said.
Eric Robison, a local contractor and candidate for county commission, alerted MDE of problems at the site on July 29. Agency inspectors first went to the site on Aug. 3 and found “numerous” violations throughout the project, including some inadequate erosion controls and other areas of construction where there were no controls at all.
MDE told Synergics to stop all earth-moving work until the violations were corrected, and the developer agreed.
But in another inspection on Aug. 24, MDE found that Synergics had continued with some earth-moving work, like excavation to prepare for building windmill pads.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the wind power industry, said on Aug. 27 that Synergics would work with MDE to satisfy the agency’s concerns, but that no erosion problems resulted from work at the site.
“The fact of the matter is there’s no runoff issues related to that, and no environmental issues whatsoever,” Maisano said. “There have been no sediment control problems to date because there just hasn’t been any rain or anything like that.”
Robison pointed out that the area saw more than an inch of rain in August, according to data on Garrett College’s weather website.
“We had in excess of an inch of rain that occurred on a site that maybe nobody was monitoring,” Robison said. “They might not be able to see the effects at the site, but that’s because they all ran downhill.”
Apperson stressed that the stop work order is temporary and called the violation “easily correctable.”
He said Synergics originally anticipated correcting the issue by Tuesday, but as of Thursday the developer was still “working up a schedule for the completion of the balance of the work.”
The Roth Rock project, as it is known, will consist of 20 2.5-megawatt wind turbines stretched across about three miles of Backbone Mountain near the West Virginia border. It is Garrett County’s second wind project, the other being developed near Eagle Rock by Constellation Energy.
MDE temporarily halted work on the Constellation project in late March, just one week after construction began. That stoppage was also due to insufficient erosion and sediment controls.
Constellation addressed the issues and revised its site plans, and was allowed to resume work by the beginning of April. The developer also paid $12,670 into the state’s sediment fund for the violations.
Apperson said he could not comment on the possibility of fines against Synergics because the situation remains under investigation.
In both cases, MDE was alerted about violations by members of a local wind farm opposition group called Save Western Maryland.
Maisano accused the group and affiliated groups of using similar tactics to “slow, delay or alter” wind power projects throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
“The fact of the matter is you have a naysayer, an active opponent … who’s sitting there watching every move waiting to complain,” Maisano said.
“The only thing I’ve been looking to do as part of Save Western Maryland is look at the regulatory process, look at what they’re supposed to be doing, and when we found that they weren’t doing what they’re required to do by law … we reported them to the proper authorities,” Robison said.
Save Western Maryland has also begun the process of taking legal action against Synergics for violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The organization gave Synergics official notice in a July 20 letter that it would sue for violation of the act unless the developer sought a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A lawsuit can be filed 60 days after notice of intent is given.
The letter stated that the wind project will adversely affect Indiana bats and Virginia big-eared bats, both classified as federal endangered species.
The group sent a similar letter to Constellation on June 23. A company spokesman has stated that Constellation will apply for the USFWS permit.