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Garrett wind regulation measure dies in state legislature

CUMBERLAND – A bill that would have authorized Garrett County commissioners to control the development of wind farms in the county has died in the Maryland General Assembly, said Delegate Wendell Beitzel, the sponsor of the bill. Commissioners will continue to look for ways to have some control over wind turbines in the county, Commission Chairman Gregan Crawford said.

Beitzel said there’s a double standard at work in the bill’s defeat.

“By placing a moratorium on Marcellus shale drilling, while providing no protection for the people of Garrett County in regards to wind turbines, it appears that the House of Delegates is pursuing a lop-sided energy plan that will do little to make Maryland energy independent,” said Beitzel.

The House Economic Matters Committee reported the bill unfavorably Wednesday, effectively killing the proposed legislation. A companion Senate bill is stuck in committee.

“Because there is no zoning in Garrett County, wind turbines can theoretically be built right next to a neighboring property,” Beitzel previously told the Times-News. Garrett County commissioners testified in favor of the bill in Annapolis, Garrett County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt said. It was the third try at getting the bill passed, he said.

“We were disappointed,” said Crawford. “We explained we were a new board with a new land management philosophy,” Crawford said. The commission simply wanted the legislature to give it tools to make some common-sense regulation for wind power production in the county, Crawford said.

Maryland counties with zoning have the ability to “restrict or authorize” wind farms and wind turbine power generation via zoning regulations and ordinances, according to a fiscal and policy note to the bill prepared by the Department of Legislative Services. Garrett County, however, does not have zoning, and without passage of the bill, has limited ability to regulate wind-powered electricity generation.

Pagenhardt said the attitude of some delegates seemed to be that Garrett County has the tools it needs to regulate the wind farms – it just needs to pass zoning. Zoning is a controversial issue in the county, Pagenhardt said, but he believes that the current commissioners might be willing to take up the subject with county citizens again.

One mechanism Garrett commissioners are examining is the use of the comprehensive plan to control wind development. Earlier this month, 50 county residents attended a hearing on proposed changes to the comprehensive plan.

The county has been working with the two wind developers in the county, Constellation and Synergics. They’ve had “good” discussions, especially with Constellation, about decommissioning the facilities should that occur, Pagenhardt said.

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 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.”

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.

Allegany County has passed restrictions on commercial wind turbines through a county ordinance. Companies seeking to generate power with wind must have their applications approved by the state Public Service Commission, according to the fiscal and policy note.

Staff writers Michael Sawyers and Angie Brant contributed to this story.