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November 20, 2012

Wind turbine setbacks a legislative priority for Garrett County

OAKLAND — The Board of Garrett County Commissioners is again requesting legislation that will address wind turbine setbacks when the 2013 General Assembly convenes in January. The request of the local legislative delegation mirrors a bill that didn’t pass last year, said Chairman Jim Raley.

“Our request is similar to what it’s been in the past to introduce some form of legislation that offers some formal setbacks and decommissioning,” said Raley during the Tuesday commission meeting. “This is probably the third or fourth go around of asking the state to enact some form of regulatory framework.”

The language in the 2013 request is the same language that was put into the bill last year, with the exception of the addition of “at the applicant’s expense,” said County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt.

During a commission meeting in June, the commissioners came to an impasse on how to proceed with a draft land use management ordinance, a portion of which deals with wind turbine setbacks. The ordinance was tabled so discussion could occur with the local legislative delegation.

The bill was close to passing last year, Delegate Wendell Beitzel said.

“There were some discussions that changes needed to be made to that bill,” he said. “There might be some slight modifications required to get the bill to pass.”

Beitzel said passing the bill would protect the neighboring properties near the wind turbine if the turbine would fall.

“Basically the intent of this is a safety issue,” said Beitzel.

Resident David Nelson, who lives about 1,600 feet from the proposed Fourmile Ridge Wind Energy project, asked that commissioners pursue other means to enforce the setbacks to protect those living close to the turbines.

“Obviously the zoning didn’t go over too well. I’m not advocating pursuing that again,” said Nelson, who suggested that the commission look into a sensitive area zoning ordinance.  “We are not only concerned about Fourmile Ridge but also the county as a whole.”

The closest non-leased homes are about 1,200 feet from the proposed 24-turbine project, which would be located on St. John’s Rock at Fourmile Ridge between Avilton and Frostburg, Nelson said. There are some leased occupied structures that are about 500 feet from the proposed turbines, Raley said.

“There is nothing out there right now, in my opinion, to stop a company from putting a turbine within 500 feet of anyone’s home that is a safety issue and a major concern of mine,” Raley said.

The industry standard suggests that wind turbines be placed anywhere from 1,200 to 18,000 feet from a residence, he said.  

“We are really held hostage to the industry doing what’s responsible,” said Raley. “If you like them (wind turbines), I don’t even see how you could call them a pleasing appearance. It’s almost looks like we just planted them and they just grew wherever they planted them. It really does look that bad, unfortunately.”

Resident Butch Helmick suggested that the commissioners find a balance between reasonable setbacks that would allow wind projects and still protect the public.

“We are trying to find the balance,” said Commissioner Gregan Crawford.

The commissioners also requested legislation that would amend the Code of Maryland Regulations to allow the county’s roads department to continue to stockpile coal combustion byproducts, which are used as winter abrasive on roads. Stockpiling the coal byproduct does not create an environmental containment hazard, the county believes.

Sen. George Edwards said that some bills were introduced late during last year’s session.

“Hopefully we can get ahead of the game and get it moving quickly this year,” said Edwards.

Edwards and Beitzel will hold a public meeting on Dec. 8 at 10 a.m at the Continuing Education building at Garrett College to discuss legislative issues.

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