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Bohanan calls wind-turbine project ‘dead’; Towers called threat to Pax River’s radar

Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) told the St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that he expects the proposed wind turbine project across the Chesapeake Bay in Somerset County is about to die.

The Great Bay Wind Energy Center has been controversial on both sides of the bay. In St. Mary’s, elected officials and others say the turbines would interfere with sophisticated and unique radar testing at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Both Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) have intervened to try to halt the project to allow time to complete a $2 million study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the effect of wind turbines on the Navy base’s ADAMS radar system.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill this year to delay the Great Bay project by one year until that study is completed. The developers of the project, Pioneer Green, said that delay would derail the investment. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), a proponent of clean energy, vetoed that bill.

Speaking at a candidate forum Wednesday, Bohanan said, “Later this week you will hear we’ve been very successful … I believe the project is dead.” Bohanan said he had not shared the latest development with other Southern Maryland lawmakers yet, including his brother-in-law, state Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles).

Dyson, who addressed the wind turbines at the forum before Bohanan spoke, said they were a problem for Pax River. He said the turbines “could threaten, in my opinion, the long-term viability of the base.”

The Great Bay Wind project is waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a final determination of “no hazard,” which would include the Department of Defense’s formal stance on the project.

Bohanan said Thursday he is “anticipating that the DoD will file a formal objection later this month.”

Mikulski added language to the defense appropriation bill that would prevent the Navy from entering into a curtailment agreement with Pioneer Green until the MIT study is completed.

In an email Thursday, Adam Cohen, vice president of Great Bay, said, “We are confident that the FAA will follow the process as required by federal law, and not be affected by the Washington-insider politics that are seeking to block this investment in clean energy and jobs on the Eastern Shore to bring Maryland closer to meeting its renewable energy goals.”

Great Bay wrote to the FAA on Aug. 26, citing its concerns with the defense department’s role in the FAA’s determination. “DoD has communicated to us that they will not engage at this time in any way to finalize the agreement, nor will they commit to any timetable for doing so,” Cohen wrote. Great Bay was working with the Navy on an agreement under which the 25 wind turbines would be turned off when Pax River tests its radar systems. “This development is extremely unfortunate,” Cohen said of the lack of cooperation.

Hoyer and others testified before a Maryland Senate committee in April, saying the turbines would be detrimental to operations and could threaten to move the radar testing elsewhere. “This activity being done is a matter of national security,” Hoyer said then. “Doing it at Pax is not.”

“Great Bay has no choice but to request that FAA now issue Determinations of No Hazard for all the applications, unless DoD timely asserts national security risks created by the Great Bay project which cannot be mitigated,” Cohen wrote.

“Great Bay remains fully committed to the Clearinghouse process, and does not elect to exit the process at this time,” Cohen wrote. “The Clearinghouse process has failed because DoD has refused to comply with its obligations under that process.”

“Even before the governor’s unfortunate veto, Congressman Hoyer began pressing the DoD to be sure all voices were being heard at the Pentagon on this issue,” Bohanan said Thursday. “We have been successful in doing that, and I remain optimistic that this project will be found to be incompatible with national security interests. Congressman Hoyer’s inquiries, as well as Senator Mikulski’s language, I believe, should soon halt any threat to the important work we do out on the ranges at Pax,” he said. Bohanan is a senior adviser to Hoyer.

Delmarvanow.com reported on Wednesday evening that Somerset’s planning commission put a restriction on the wind turbines so that they cannot be louder than 40 decibels at night. The Maryland code puts the nighttime maximum noise level at 55 decibels, the website reported. The commission also voted to keep the maximum height of the towers at 400 feet, much lower than Pioneer Green planned on.

“If they stay under 400 feet, Pax is OK,” Bohanan said Thursday morning.

Earlier this month, the Somerset board also voted to extend the setback lines for the wind turbines. “If this ordinance passes, with these changes, it would make utility-scale wind power virtually impossible,” Paul Harris of Pioneer Green was quoted as saying in the article on delmarvanow.com.