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Garrett County residents want wind turbine issues regulated at local level

OAKLAND – Garrett County residents urged the county commissioners to forward the draft of the land-use management ordinance, which establishes wind turbine setbacks, back to the Planning Commission during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s county meeting.

“I think solving this issue locally for our county politics is the best pathway for getting real meaningful setbacks in place here in Garrett County,” said resident Jim McCann, who lives near the proposed Fourmile Ridge Wind Energy project. “I don’t think the effort that (Sen. George) Edwards and (Delegate Wendell) Beitzel are going to take up in Annapolis is going to be successful. I don’t think it’s sufficient.”

Resident Bernard Kahl echoed McCann’s sentiments.

“We can’t count on the state for any help,” said Kahl, who suggested sending the draft ordinance back to the Planning Commission. “We have no promises that Edwards and Beitzel’s bills will pass and it’s weak anyway. There is massive amounts of environmental, scenic and tourism dollars that is going to be lost in the future because we don’t have zoning. People come to Garrett County for the scenery and the wildlife.”

The commissioners recently requested that Edwards and Beitzel introduce legislation that addresses wind turbine setbacks. The language in the 2013 request is the same language that was put into the proposed bill last year, with the exception of the addition of “at the applicant’s expense,” said County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt, at a previous commission meeting.

Edwards indicated that last year the bill needed an amendment to move forward and that he thought part of the reason the bill didn’t pass was because legislators got bogged down with bills dealing with budget-related issues. The requested legislation also deals with the decommissioning of the wind turbines.

“We are going to try and get it in sooner this year than we did last year,” said Edwards. “The simpler it is, the easier chance it has getting through legislators.”

County Commissioner Gregan Crawford agreed with the residents.

“I believe that the document should go to the Planning Commission so we continue to have this debate in a public forum,” said Crawford. “Right now it’s dead in the water. It needs to go to the Planning Commission if it’s going to go forward.”

In June, commissioners came to an impasse on how to proceed with the draft ordinance. The ordinance also addresses countywide zoning, which has been a contested issue among residents. Commission chairman Jim Raley indicated that some of the discussion on the draft ordinance lacked an educational component on what zoning is and isn’t.

“I think that educational component could come out if that document were to go to the Planning Commission,” said Crawford. “There is no guarantee that there would be a recommendation that comes back for adoption from the Planning Commission. If it goes forward it doesn’t guarantee passage or adoption by us.”

The proposed Fourmile Ridge 24-wind turbine project will likely be completed by December 2013 or summer 2014, depending on building permits and commencement of construction, Frank Maisano, a Synergics spokesman, previously said. The project needs Federal Aviation Administration approval before the county can issue a building permit, Jim Torrington, chief of the Garrett County Permits and Inspections Division, has indicated. The wind turbines are still in the proposal phase with the FAA, according to the Synergics website.

“Garrett County is the path of least resistance. That’s why they (wind developers) are going to keep coming here,” said Crawford. “If we don’t take responsibility to manage these things ourselves, they are going to continue to show up and have impacts to local citizens who have lived here all of their life.”

Edwards and Beitzel will hold a public prelegislative meeting Saturday at 10 a.m in Rooms 205-207 of the Continuing Education Building at Garrett College to discuss legislative issues.