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Garrett official wants zoning laws to regulate wind farms

OAKLAND – Garrett County Commission Chairman Gregan Crawford is concerned about how wind turbines in the county are affecting residents.

Crawford said during Tuesday’s commissioner meeting that he lives three-quarters of a mile from a wind turbine and can hear it every day.

John Nelson, director of the county’s department of planning and land development, provided the commission with an update on three proposed wind turbine projects during the meeting. Currently there are no controls in place to regulate wind turbines. Crawford hopes to establish zoning laws that will regulate them.

“At any time I will enter into a motion to develop zoning laws that will regulate the propagation and proliferation of future wind projects in the county,” said Crawford, who also encouraged Commissioners Robert Gatto and James Raley to do the same. “Here is three more projects that are coming into our area. We need to start the dialogue on how we can control noise and flicker.”

In order to install wind turbines, companies just basically need grid authorization and a building permit, said Crawford.

The three proposed projects are the Winding Ridge project, which would consist of 20 turbines near Friendsville; the Fair Winds project, which is owned by Clipper Windpower Development Co. and is proposed on Backbone Mountain; and the Four Mile Ridge project near Avilton. A meteorological tower permit was issued for Winding Ridge, the most recently proposed project, said Nelson. 

“We are still working with Clipper on the southern end for a meteorological tower just north of Route 50,” said Nelson.

There has been no contact with Synergics in regard to the Four Mile Ridge project near Avilton, according to Nelson.

Constellation Energy Group Inc., which already has 28 wind turbines on Backbone Mountain, is considering selling to Exelon Corp. of Chicago. On Dec. 5, Constellation Energy Group and Exelon filed a brief with the Maryland Public Service Commission in which they committed to build 175 megawatts of new generation in Maryland, Crawford said during the meeting. That would include 55 megawatts of wind or solar capacity, which would increase the state’s total renewable capacity by more than 30 percent, according to an article on the website istockanalyst.com.

In November, Crawford wrote a letter to Exelon President and CEO Christopher Crane noting that industrial wind power generation has been a contentious issue in the county, according to the Associated Press.

“The board does not support further industrialization of ridge tops until a prudent and reasonable public policy has been created and enacted that will provide protections to those who will be adversely impacted,” said Crawford in the letter.

In other commission news, Friendsville Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle and Councilman Jess Whittemore asked that the county consider sharing a percentage of its amusement tax.

Four acres of land was recently donated to Friendsville to use as a parking lot for river and trail users. The parking lot would keep people from parking along a busy road and would also help grow new business in the area, Whittemore said. The town does have some grant money to cover the cost of the parking lot but it’s not enough.“Parking lots are very expensive and we are trying to be smart about how we spend money on it. We can’t rely on grants alone,” said Whittemore, noting that he had looked into the cheapest way to get a storm water drainage system for the parking lot.

Currently the county provides the town with a $15,000 payment in lieu of a tax differential setoff, according to County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt.

Also during the meeting:

• The commission announced its decision to purchase the MEDCo Building located at the Southern Business and Technology Park for $1,150,000. Money from the unassigned fund balance will be used to purchase this building.

• Sherriff Robert Corley provided an update on the county’s effort to improve courthouse security, which limits the primary public access to 317 Alder St. and requires visitors to go through a metal detector. On Dec. 1, the first day of implementation, the sheriff’s office checked in 269 people. County employees and attorneys can access the building using a card reader and identification number. Corley is looking into getting ID cards for the paralegals who use the courthouse on a daily basis.

• The commission approved a $38,046 bid award to Eastern Hardwoods Inc. for a standing timber sale.