At public hearing, majority backs Fair Wind project; Opposition group claims turbines adversely affecting Garrett County
MCHENRY – A majority of residents spoke in favor of the Fair Wind project during a Maryland Public Service Commission hearing on Thursday at Garrett College. Residents noted that the county is in dire need of the revenue that the project would generate.
“We need the revenue for the school systems for the county. Why the county commissioners aren’t here in support of it for the revenue, I don’t know,” said George Scheffel. “One thing I do know is that we are in dire need of the money.”
“We feel this project will be a great success,” said Steven Friend, who was speaking on behalf of his mother, Wilma J. Friend. “They will create green energy with needed jobs and financial help to Garrett County, the state of Maryland, local businesses and royalties to the landowners.”
The Roth Rock and Criterion projects paid more than $2 million in taxes last year to the county, according to Friend.
“With additional revenue from them and the Fair Wind project we may even be able to keep the three county schools that they are considering closing open. We ask that the Fair Wind project be approved and be built as soon as possible,” said Friend, who owns land where the 12 wind turbines would be located.
Eric Robison of Save Western Maryland disagreed with Friend, noting that other wind projects have affected the county’s wealth formula.
“When these other two projects came in, they ended up ultimately changing our wealth formula for how we receive funding from the state in regard to association with our tax base. This increased our tax base,” said Robison.
The wealth formula, coupled with a declining enrollment, led to a $2.2 million budget gap that could lead to the closing of three schools. The county was rated the ninth wealthiest county in the state and, when the projects came online, it moved up to the fifth wealthiest, according to Robison.
“Having additional projects, especially in a time like this, would only exasberate that and actually move us beyond that five to four or three. At least five (wind) projects are in consideration for Garrett County.”
The project would create 100 to 125 temporary construction jobs, according to Matt Brewer, managing partner of Bennett, Brewer & Associates in Frostburg, which is the engineer of record for the project.
“Our school system is dwindling,” said Scheffel. “It’s dwindling because it is such a big downward ripple effect. If you don’t have more jobs you don’t get more kids to come to the schools; that’s why they are closing them up right now. We don’t want it to continue to happen; we have to find something other than tourism jobs.”
In the first 20 years of operation, the Fair Wind project will generate about $10 million in property tax revenue for the county, according to Brewer. The project, in aggregate with Roth Rock and Criterion projects, will generate about $23 million in property tax revenue in 2020.
Robison asked that the PSC review all documentation submitted for the project.
“I would love to see the PSC go back and review all the documentation that has been submitted and have it verified. I’m for clean energy. I’m for a better way of life. I don’t see that any of this is going to benefit us right now,” said Robison.
Jim Torrington, chief of the Garrett County Permits and Inspections Division, said in a previous interview with the Times-News that last year Fair Wind submitted a concept plan for review but hasn’t come back for a grading permit yet.
“In looking at what the proposed site plan was for this project, currently what was submitted to the county was from Clipper. Clipper has now filed bankruptcy and that project permitting process was purchased by Fair Wind Exelon,” said Robison. “There is no current permit at all. There is nothing that has been approved in association with this.”
A concept plan is the first of three required plan approvals, according to the county’s stormwater ordinance. All plans for the project are expected this winter, according to Torrington. Over the next few months, Fair Wind Power Partners will continue to work with the county to acquire stormwater management and sediment erosion control approvals as well as building and grading permits required to construct the site and electric collection line, said Brewer.
The project is adjacent to areas that are environmentally sensitive but can be built with minimal environmental impact, said Brewer. Various environmental studies as well as bird studies have been done.
Save Western Maryland was the lead organization that filed a lawsuit against Constellation, Criterion and Clipper for not filing for an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Robison.
“That federal lawsuit is still ongoing,” said Robison.
The lawsuit was filed because endangered Indiana bats were present on the southern end of the Constellation project, where Fair Wind is also going.
“The Constellation project was required as part of that ITP permitting process to do a one-year study,” said Robison. “After the completion of the study (in 2011), U.S. Fish and Wildlife determined that this project was the deadliest project in North America for avian bats and birds. This (Fair Wind) would be an extension of that.”
Fair Wind Power Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Exelon Generation Co., filed for an application with the PSC for 12 wind turbines along the top of Backbone Mountain, according to Brewer. The project, which would generate 30 megawatts of electricity, is slated to begin in the spring of 2014 and be operational in 2015.
“The site has some of the highest wind speeds in the region,” said Brewer.
Brewer expects to see a determination of no hazard to air navigation soon from the Federal Aviation Administration.
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