The modern version of an ancient proverb holds that “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”
How slowly do they turn? As slowly as the blades on a wind turbine, perhaps? Some days, in our neck of the woods, the blades don’t turn at all … during what mariners in the age of sail would have described as “a dead calm.”
More than a year and a half after the process began, a Maryland public utility law judge has issued a proposed order that would effectively kill Dan’s Mountain Wind Force LLC’s plans for a 17-turbine wind farm on Dan’s Mountain.
This is an act of justice that works in our favor because it reinforces Allegany County’s right to exercise self-government.
After each step of the legal process in which permission to build the wind farm was denied, Dan’s Mountain went to the next level.
In a previous editorial, we compared this to the ploy commonly used by youngsters who, when they can’t get permission from Dad, go next to ask Mom if it’s OK with her (See: “End-around: Company wants state approval for wind farm,” Feb. 24, 2016).
The Allegany County commissioners, the Allegany County Board of Zoning Appeals and Allegany County Circuit Court Judge W. Timothy Finan all said “No” to Dan’s Mountain. Their decisions were based on Allegany County’s codes, regulations and laws.
Dan’s Mountain then turned to the Maryland Public Service Commission, asking for a certificate of public convenience and necessity – basically saying, “Tell us we can do it anyway, even if they don’t like it.”
A public hearing was held last August by the PSC’s chief public utility judge, Terry Romine. Some spoke in favor of the project. Others cited health concerns or said a decision in favor of Dan’s Mountain would be an affront to Allegany County’s right to govern itself.
In her proposed ruling, Romine found that a wind farm’s adverse impacts – the effect noise and shadow flickers would have “on the esthetic of local communities on and around Dan’s Mountain” – would outweigh any benefits.
Dan’s Mountain said it was disappointed by the proposed ruling and is weighing its appeal options.
Plans to install wind farms in this area may have produced more vocal opposition than anything else in recent times. Opposition to hydraulic fracking of natural gas comes close, but protests against wind farms – both in the planning stages and after completion – have gone on for a longer time.
Several years before it was proposed to put a wind farm on Dan’s Mountain, residents in nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia said they were having problems with wind turbines. They said shadows, noise and vibrations caused mental and physical health problems and led to a decrease in the use, enjoyment and value of their property.
One couple told our reporter Elaine Blaisdell it was like living in the “dark, deep depths of hell.”
Dan’s Mountain predicted its wind farm would generate about $720,000 a year in property taxes for Allegany County over the first 20 years.
That may seem like a lot of money, but the county’s anticipated share of gaming proceeds from the Rocky Gap Casino Resort for the 2016 fiscal year is nearly twice that much: $1.4 million. All the resort does is sit there, out of everyone’s way – attracting people to it, rather than annoying them or driving them off.
Opposition to wind farms is growing elsewhere. The Kokomo, Indiana, Tribune (a CNHI newspaper) reported last year that wind farm developers “were running into resistance from communities that fear those turbines will overrun the landscape.”
CNHI State Reporter Maureen Hayden wrote that “Fears of noise, adverse health effects and worries that home values will plummet as the giant turbines go up are driving the concerns of opponents.
“Residents who live in cozy homes in rural Rush County say their unobstructed views of bucolic farmland will be permanently marred by a proposed development of 65 wind turbines. The bladed turbines will reach 600 feet into the sky, about three times higher than the tallest building in the county, the courthouse.”
Hank Campbell, an avid opponent of the project, asked Hayden, “Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘I want to build my house next to a wind farm?’ ”
Campbell’s counterparts in our area kept the Times-News supplied with letters to the editor and reader commentaries that virtually mirrored the contents of Hayden’s story.
Wind farms have an important role in today’s environmentally conscious world. Surveys repeatedly indicate that most people support wind power and, in some areas, the facilities are welcomed and prove highly productive and successful.
The trick is to make them compatible with their human neighbors.
In our part of the country, where we treasure the natural beauty of our hills and valleys and place a high value on our peace and quiet, that may take some doing.
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