Cumberland Times-News

January 22, 2013

Fourmile project on state’s ‘sensitive areas’

Group founder: Turbines on Backbone Mountain threaten birds, bats

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— OAKLAND — A major portion — 75 percent — of the proposed Fourmile Ridge wind project in eastern Garrett County is in the state’s designated “sensitive areas” as having rare, threatened and endangered species, according to Jim Torrington, chief of the Garrett County Permits and Inspections Division.

‘Those areas are part of the county’s sensitive areas ordinance,” said John Nelson, director of Planning and Land Development during the commission meeting on Tuesday. “The areas that are on the (sensitive areas) map are very generic.”

In December, Eric Robison, co-founder of Save Western Maryland, told the commissioners that the Criterion Wind project on Backbone Mountain has the highest bird/bat kill on a per-turbine basis in the United States, according to Commissioner Jim Raley.

There are several wetland and waterway permits needed from the Maryland Department of Environment due to at least three stream crossings, said Torrington.

A bridge would be constructed to provide access from one side of the project to the other side.

“Some of us are concerned about the impacts of the project on our properties along the road,” said Ed Gates, who lives on Frostburg Road. “I was surprised to hear that 75 percent of the project is going to impact the sensitive areas. That is quite significant.”

Commissioner Gregan Crawford questioned whether Synergics, the developer, was subject to an incidental take permit.

An ITP is required under the Endangered Species Act when activities will likely result in the killing or disturbance of a threatened or endangered species.

Torrington indicated he wasn’t sure if an ITP was required. In a letter written to the commissioners, Robison questioned whether or not Synergics had provided an ITP.

Robison wasn’t in attendance but Gates read Robison’s letter during the meeting.

The project would require 400,000 cubic yards of earth to be cut, according to Nelson.

“It could be one of the largest (projects) we have seen in the county,” said Nelson.

In 2010, the county adopted a stormwater management process that involves a three-fold application process.

The first part of the process is the concept plan, which was received last year followed by the site development plan, which was received in December and is currently under review.

The final development will be the last part of the process and will be completed after all the comments are satisfied, according to Nelson.

The concept plan received comments from six local agencies.

Torrington said the site development plan was quite large, could take time to review and that he didn’t have a time frame for completing the review. However, past wind projects have taken about two years to review, according to Torrington.

County commissioners have requested legislation that will address wind turbine setbacks during the 2013 General Assembly.

The language is similar to last year’s proposed bill. During the commission meeting Jeff Conner of Avilton suggested revisiting the sensitive areas ordinance and that commissioners consider adding language for ridgeline protection.

“There are so many (wind) projects, we are going to be proliferated with wind turbines,” said Conner. “One little setback that (Sen. George) Edwards is working at through the state is not going to protect that.”

On Jan. 14, Synergics Wind Energy LLC and Fourmile Wind Energy LLC filed a request for a waiver of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity requirements for a tap line to serve the project, according to the PSC filing.

Synergics is requesting the waiver be granted by April 1 to allow construction to begin immediately on the line. Also on Jan. 14, Fourmile Wind Energy LLC filed a request for approval to construct 24 wind turbines.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.