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Garrett County leaders agree on formula for wind turbine location

OAKLAND – On Tuesday, the Board of Garrett County Commissioners came to the consensus of a formula for the setbacks of industrial wind turbines to use in the draft Land Use Management Ordinance.

The setbacks for wind turbines from a occupied dwelling would be five times the height measuring from base to the hub of the wind turbine and from a property line it would be three times the height. The same formula was proposed for domestic wind turbines.

“What we are trying to do (with this draft ordinance) is determine what footprint we want here in the county and what we want this county to look like for our kids, their kids and the future generations beyond that,” said Chairman Jim Raley. “That is what we are really after here.”

Commissioner Robert Gat-to indicated that he wanted discussion on the draft document to continue. Once the changes are made in the draft document, it will be made public and residents will have until June 15 to comment on it. Raley suggested that the public’s comments be published along with the document.

“Most of you in this room have said you believe there should be some regulatory framework in regard to setbacks and those things,” said Raley during Tuesday’s meeting. “The question comes down to how do you do it without some form of zoning or some form of regulatory framework? I think that is the discussion that will be more far-reaching.”

The current formula in the draft ordinance rids the document of the 375-foot height restriction that was previously proposed, according to John Nelson, director of the Department of Planning and Land Development. During the meeting, Kevin Brokish, a project manager for the Fair Wind project, said industrial wind turbines were getting higher and that the Criterion Wind Project wouldn’t have been viable with the height restrictions that were previously proposed.

“My company and I are for reasonable wind setbacks. We think it’s inappropriate for a turbine to be a mere 500 feet from a home that is not signed with the project,” said Brokish, who noted that Clipper Windpower Development, LLC voluntarily places units 1,000 feet from residences. “More recently we have increased that distance to 1,200 feet.”

Commissioner Gregan Crawford questioned why wind turbines are getting taller. He also asked if it had an effect on noise reduction and if wind industries test for sound.

Brokish said there are tests and that in Maryland there is a 55-decibel limit, which translates into a 50-foot setback for wind turbines.

“There are two ways turbines get bigger. One way is with taller towers. I think that would help sound a little bit,” said Brokish. “As you get higher up wind speeds increase.”

After the public comment period, the ordinance will go through additional readings and a public hearing, should the commissioners decide to move forward with the document.

“It also give us time to continue to do research,” said Raley. “I can tell you the people who are worried about living in their homes would like the number to be as high as it possibly could be. Because they want to be guaranteed some type of protection. As I continue to say, I am concerned about roads and infrastructure, as the face of Garrett County is changing.”

Some research was done as to what setbacks other counties have, all of which vary. In neighboring Allegany County, the setbacks are 2,000 feet from a residence, 1,000 feet from any other structure and 5,000 feet from schools or National Register of Historic Places sites, according to data sheet provided by the commissioners. In Somerset and Cambria counties in Pennsylvania the setbacks are five times the height to the hub and is subject to a non-disturbance easement.

At a March meeting to discuss the draft ordinance, the commissioners also discussed the underground disposal of hydraulic fracturing water associated with Marcellus shale drilling. However, during the meeting on Tuesday the discussion centered more on the industrial wind setbacks.

“Everything has centered around a discussion pretty much about the wind industry. There has been little to no discussion about the gas industry,” said Raley. He said the gas industry “will bring something different. It will bring intensity of use to roadways, to trucks meeting legal re-quirements of weight restrictions. What happens when you have roads that weren’t designed for large intensity of use?”

It was stressed Tuesday that nothing in the draft ordinance is set in stone and it still has to go through the public hearing process before the commissioners can vote on it.