Clear-Cutting Project For Wind Turbines Abruptly Halted By MDE
Mar. 25, 2010
Work began in earnest this past week in clearing forest land near Eagle Rock just south of Deer Park for the erection of over two dozen 400-plus-foot wind turbines, the first to be erected in Garrett County.
The project calls for the placement of 28 turbines along that section of Backbone Mountain, with an additional 17 in the Roth Rock area of the same mountain ridge, just south of Red House.
Startled residents in the Eagle Rock area, some located within just 15 or 20 feet of the project, used words such as “shocked” and “horrified” when they were awakened by the sound of chainsaws, trucks, dozers, and massive excavating machines felling thousands of trees adjacent to their properties. Several acres of forestland timber were leveled within a matter of a few days.
The project, however, came to an abrupt halt Tuesday after one of the residents – who happens to be a contractor – suggested that the work was being done in a manner that was not in compliance with state environmental law.
“I don’t think they counted on someone living up there who knows all about such things as excavation and building permits,” said Eric Robison, who recently constructed his own new home close to the site.
Evidently Robison’s concerns were legitimate, as the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) ordered Constellation Energy and the contractor, All Construction Inc., Mt. Storm, W.Va., to immediately cease any further grading or disturbance activities, take corrective action to eliminate the discharge of sediment-laden water, and submit to the Garrett Soil Conservation District a revised erosion and sediment control plan to address the current plan’s sediment control deficiencies.
More specifically, according to MDE information office spokesperson Jay Apperson, a super silt fence was not properly installed at least eight inches below the ground surface, and consequently sediment laden water was flowing under and around the fence.
In addition, he said, the volume of water flow on the site appears to be much greater than the controls required by the current erosion and sediment control plan can effectively handle to prevent significant sediment flow off site.
Melisa and Justin Carrico, who reside directly across the street from the site where a high-voltage substation is to be constructed for the wind farm, contacted the Garrett County commissioners, requesting that they come out to the site to observe what was taking place. The commissioners declined the invitation, but agreed to meet with the Carricos at the courthouse Tuesday morning.
Among those present besides the Carricos were Commissioners Ernie Gregg and Fred Holliday, county administrator Monty Pagenhardt, and Robison, a neighbor of the Carricos.
“I feel as though I have lost all faith in the government to protect me,” Melisa Carrico told the commissioners in a prepared statement. “To know that what happened to me will happen to many other families, neighborhoods, and environments in Garrett County is absolutely unacceptable.”
She criticized the commissioners, saying that what is happening to her and her neighbors is an “act of destroying my safety, my environment, my property, and my community.”
“Yet you act as though you had no idea, and that you are sorry for about being part of a county government that obviously doesn’t protect its citizens,” she said.
Robison estimated the value of his new house to be at least $400,000, but acknowledged that this figure is now greatly diminished because of the project.
“Numerous groups have suggested many times that safety precautions, as well as environmentally sound practices, be implemented,” Carrico continued. “It is evident that we, the citizens of this county, were not protected. On every occasion nothing was done. You had seven years to stand up and protect us. That is your job.”
Justin Carrico said that among the reasons they purchased their house, valued at nearly $200,000, where it is was because of its quiet, pristine location, and the beauty of the forests.
“It’s certainly not quiet anymore,” he said, “and the forest right across the road, where I enjoy turkey hunting, has been leveled.”
Concern was also expressed about the damage to Eagle Rock Road, with Robison saying that it is literally being destroyed by the heavy equipment.
“That road really does not have an adequate base under it anyway, and there’s not going to be much of it left,” he said.
Reportedly, Constellation Energy will be responsible for repair and/or replacement of the road, according to the commissioners.
Melisa Carrico repeatedly asked the commissioners what they were going to do to help her and her neighbors, but Gregg and Holliday did not respond initially. Finally, Commissioner Gregg said, “I don’t know, Melisa. I don’t know.”
After hearing about the alleged violations at the site, the commissioners did say they would immediately contact the various permitting agencies involved, as well as John Cook, enforcement officer for the MDE.
Cook later confirmed that the project had been shut down, at least temporarily, and referred the matter to Apperson at the information office.
When asked what the next step would be for the contractor to be able to resume work at the site, Apperson said that he would have to install the super silt fence properly, devise and implement corrective action to eliminate the discharge of sediment-laden water as soon as possible, and have an engineer submit a revised erosion and sediment control plan to address the current plan’s sediment control deficiencies to the Garrett Soil Conservation District for review and approval.
He said that if the revised plan is not approved by April 5, the contractor would have to stabilize the entire site and not disturb earth until a revised plan is approved and implemented.
In addition, he would be required to submit copies of self-inspections for the site.
“MDE is reviewing the situation at the site to determine if the stream of water discharging from Eagle Rock Road should be considered to be state waters,” Apperson said, “in which case a waterway construction permit with additional requirements will be needed.”
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