CUMBERLAND – Opponents of a wind farm project planned for Dan’s Mountain won a partial victory Tuesday when the Allegany County Board of Zoning Appeals postponed a hearing on the project for 60 days. The hearing will decide on the developer’s request for a special exception and variances from current county zoning regulations. If the board denies the requests, the $110 million project would be dead.
“If this board stays with the current schedule …it will effectively deprive my clients of the ability to challenge … the project,” said J. Matthew Gilmore, an attorney for some opponents of the project. Gilmore said his clients needed more time to develop their case against the project and hire expert witnesses. “My clients are not a large corporate entity,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore asked for a six-month continuance of the hearing in his original motion.
The wind farm consisting of 17 turbines is being proposed by Dans Mountain Wind Force LLC. Opponents have said they are concerned about the viewshed, noise, electromagnetic interference and other issues.
“All my clients are asking for is a bit more time to make this proceeding fairer,” Gilmore said.
An attorney for the developer said his clients had abided by the rules and all county notice requirements were met. Hearings are scheduled 45 days after a request for a variance is filed.
“They rely on the code provisions that say this will happen within certain timelines,” said John Gontrum, an attorney for Dans Mountain Wind Force LLC. Gontrum said not only would a delay penalize the developer, who had lined up witnesses for Aug. 11, but would harm co-applicants for the variances, including local landowners who planned to lease property to the developer. Gontrum pointed out that the developer must prove the need for the variances.
The procedure for variances isn’t unusual; variances and special exceptions are requested frequently. What is unusual is the large scope of the project and the large number of documents involved.
Members of the board then discussed the project, and consensus was reached that the hearing should be postponed. Board member William Powell suggested 90 days because of the complicated and “voluminous” nature of the documents involved. Chairwoman Julia Wilson and member Rodger Uphold said they thought 45 days was more reasonable, because 90 days might run into scheduling problems with fall holidays, among other reasons. The board settled on 60 days and voted unanimously in favor of the 60-day extension.
The hearing had been scheduled for Aug. 11 and will now take place sometime in October. A date for the next hearing has not been set.
The plan has become controversial and Allegany County commissioners said on Thursday they were disturbed by what they say is name-calling and misinformation being put forward by opponents of the plan. Commissioners said they cannot intervene in the Board of Zoning Appeals process and will not pass a retroactive law to ban the wind project.
Commissioner Creade Brodie Jr. said last week that opponents of the project were “NIMBYs” (Not in My Backyard) and that they were harming chances for a major economic development project. Brodie said the project would bring jobs and tax payments of $600,000 a year to the county.
The project has been delayed several times, but the Maryland Public Service Commission has granted extensions to the developer. During a Dec. 17, 2014, meeting, the PSC granted a motion to extend the deadline for the start of construction of the project to Dec. 31, 2016, and the deadline for the beginning of operations to Dec. 31, 2018.
Gontrum said he did not plan to appeal the extension.