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Wind farm developers want more time to start Dan’s Mountain project

Maryland utility regulators questioned developers of a proposed Western Maryland wind farm for almost an hour Wednesday before holding off on whether to give them more time to start a project embroiled in a county zoning battle.

Dan’s Mountain Windforce is asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to extend the March 12 deadline to begin construction until Sept. 12, 2013. Commissioners asked company and state officials at length about wildlife affected by wind turbines before deciding Wednesday to take more time to consider the request.

The project was approved by the commission in 2009 but has been held up by zoning changes in Allegany County. Since then, all three county commissioners were replaced by voters in 2010.

Attorney Ken Hurwitz, representing the company, said the developers haven’t had much contact with the new commissioners.

However, if the PSC approves the new deadline “we’re hopeful with a new slate in office that they will be more considerate” of the jobs and other economic benefits the wind farm will produce, Hurwitz said.

Michael McKay, president of the county’s board of commissioners, said the county’s zoning board will decide on the proposal.

“The process has been established and I personally don’t see any need to change the process,” McKay said, adding that “we are open for business for wind power, they’ve just got to fit in.”

McKay said his understanding of the proposal was that three of the about 25 turbines proposed did not meet the zoning requirements.

The company says the project on top of four miles of ridgeline near Frostburg could create up to 200 jobs. Opponents have expressed concerns about noise from the turbines and the impact on home values in the area.

The PSC commissioners also questioned company and state officials at length about new federal guidelines for protecting golden eagles that have been issued since 2009 and other data since then on wildlife in the area.

Hurwitz said the company is willing to take steps to reduce the impact on wildlife. Before deciding to take more time to consider the request, the commissioners also asked the company to commit in writing to steps it was willing to take to protect birds and bats from being killed by the turbines, which Hurwitz said the company would do.