- National Wind Watch: Wind Energy News - https://www.wind-watch.org/news -

Proposed Garrett comprehensive plan ridge top amendment draws debate

OAKLAND – Oakland resident William Janoske brought a copy of the deed to his 700-acre farm to a public hearing held by the Garrett County commissioners to demonstrate what he felt should be the main focus of the hearing.

“I have brought something that I think everyone has forgotten about, a deed. I have a real issue with people telling me what I can do and not do with my land,” Janoske said.

Janoske was one of more than 50 people who attended the nearly two-hour meeting Tuesday regarding the county comprehensive plan. The hearing was held by the commissioners and the Planning and Land Development Office to gather input from county residents on proposed changes to the plan.

In January, the county commissioners requested that the Planning Commission consider making an amendment to the plan regarding the protection of ridge lines. They requested the commission to re-insert language that had appeared in the 2008 original draft. The draft included three sections that outlined methods to manage development on major ridge lines by establishing height and setback requirements and cited the need to protect the region from the “potential to negatively affect the county’s scenic qualities.”

John Nelson, director of the Department of Planning and Land Development, said re-inserting the original language would allow the county more opportunities to manage future projects. He also suggested that future projects could be addressed by making changes in zoning and/or subdivision ordinances.

Nelson called the comprehensive plan a policy document, a framework for the implementation of how development will move forward in Garrett County.

The Planning Office has received seven written statements from area residents and organizations regarding the proposed changes. Nelson said the Garrett County Board of Realtors, Savage River Watershed Association and two property owners have written letters of support for the changes. Three letters opposing the changes were also received.

Ridge lines that are designated as sensitive areas are Backbone Mountain, Meadow Mountain, Negro Mountain and Big Savage Mountain. Additions to that list will be determined following a review of public comment by the commissioners.

Matt Brewer, an attorney with Bennett, Brewer & Associates, spoke on behalf of area property owners and raised concerns about the legality and ethics of the changes.

“Is the intent to eliminate future industrial wind projects entirely?” he asked.

Brewer cited the success of similar projects in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and said that tourism representatives in those areas have indicated that wind farms have served as a benefit financially and a have served as a boon to tourism. Brewer said that he believes that housing development or mining has a far greater impact on natural resources than the installation of a wind turbine.

“But what this really comes down to is the rights of property owners,” he concluded.

Lee Murdy, representing MLH LLC, a landowner of property on Four Mile Ridge, echoed those fears and added his own perspective to the issue.

“As a resident of Somerset County, I have only seen the turbines have a positive impact on the county,” he said. Murdy stated that wind farms in Somerset County have benefited the local economy and help boost tourism, and he predicts Garrett County will have a similar experience.

William Saltysiak, a local attorney and resident, agreed that the issue is based on property rights but said he fears the rights of property owners adjacent to the wind turbines is also in jeopardy.

“I represent a property owner that lives 500 feet from a turbine. What is he supposed to do?” Saltysiak asked.

While conducting research for his clients, Saltysiak has learned that documents published by Synergics Wind Energy state that operating turbines could pose a danger to individuals within 1,300 feet of an operational turbine. He also stated Synergics Wind Energy recognizes the potential for hazardous “ice throw” from the blades during the winter months.

“I am in support of these proposed changes and have a serious concern about the lack of regulation in Garrett County,” he said. “There must be setbacks. You have to look at the property rights of adjoining properties as well.”

John Boone, a county resident, spoke to the beauty and aesthetics of the region and stated that he fears those natural attributes are threatened by future development on the ridge lines.

“Those ridges symbolize our heritage; we need to clarify what we feel is valuable,” he said.

Boone said the turbines already on Backbone Mountain will serve as “evidence of greed and ignorance for the next 100 years,” and future turbines will only “defile the beauty of the ridges.”

Steven Friend said he helps care for 150 acres on Backbone Mountain owned by his mother and that she and his late father have been “good stewards of the land.” Friend feels his mother should be able to develop her land in whatever manner she feels fit.

“There do need to be setbacks and decommission fees, but we also need green energy,” he added.

Troy Ellington, chair of the Planning Committee, served as the moderator and reminded everyone that the process has just begun. “How it will evolve is yet to be determined but this is a good start and we want to hear what the public has to say,” Ellington said.

The Planning and Land Development office will continue to accept public comment on the proposed changes for the next two weeks. Forms can be found on the county’s website at www.garrettcounty.org.

[rest of article available at source]