Garrett hits impasse with wind setbacks

Commission uncertain how to carry on with land use ordinance

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — After three motions, Garrett County commissioners came to an impasse in regard to a decision on how to proceed with the public process of a draft land use management ordinance, a portion of which deals with wind turbine setbacks.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Chairman Jim Raley made a motion to table the ordinance so a discussion could occur with the local delegation to address enacting wind setback legislation during the next General Assembly session.

Although Raley’s motion was seconded by Commissioner Gregan Crawford, it was then opposed by commissioners Crawford and Robert Gatto.

“Commissioner Crawford did second that motion, which gave me the opportunity to provide my explanation as to what I wanted to do,” said Raley, who said, according to parliamentary procedures, a motion can be explained once it is seconded. “While Commissioner Crawford wanted to hear what I said, he was not necessarily saying … that he was in agreement with it.”

During the meeting, Raley said he wanted one more chance to speak with the delegation about wind legislation.

“This is the last effort. The state has to understand that they have to put in place some form of protection,” said Raley. “They want to heavily regulate and almost bring a halt to shale gas in this area but they want to put on blinders when it comes to wind energy.”

Raley said that at last year’s Maryland Association of Counties conference, the Maryland Energy Administration talked about the greatness of wind energy and Maryland’s energy future but failed to mention the development of shale gas.

“Many organizations have worked heavily to try to regulate coal out of business. Shame on us,” said Raley.

Raley said regulations could be made statewide in partnering with local legislators, possibly the Maryland Energy Administration and other state agencies.

Crawford said he thought going to the legislation wouldn’t help.

“We have tried to go to the legislature for five to six years now and get this issue addressed. It’s been ineffective,” said Crawford “Last year we got very close but time ran out.”

Crawford made a motion to forward the ordinance to the planning commission and Gatto made an opposing motion, both of which died due to a lack of a second.

“As far as the document, I’m not in favor of it going forward to the planning commission. I think it is too far-reaching, in particular on wind,” said Gatto.

Raley echoed Gatto’s statements, “This document unfortunately reaches far beyond wind energy. It reaches into land uses that farmers have told me they don’t like, business owners have told me they don’t like and landowners have told me they don’t like. I have to figure out some way to get some reasonable setbacks and compliant standards for this (wind) industry.”

The commissioners have received many comments in regard to wind energy projects and the ordinance.

There were petitions with 94 signatures supporting the Annapolis-based Synergics 24-wind turbine project on Four Mile Ridge, according to Raley. In addition, the commission received petitions with 642 signatures opposing the draft land use management ordinance. The commission also received advisory opinions from Maryland Energy Administration, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Mid Atlantic Renewable, Energy Clipper and EDP Renewables.

“Shame on Maryland. Shame on us for not having something in place before this whole thing took off,” said Raley. “That’s unfortunate because we are amongst projects that already exist and some projects are in the pipeline.”

County attorney Gorman Getty addressed the legal aspects of the vested rights of those projects in different stages, in regard to the ordinance.

Maryland law reflects that when spade is to the earth and there is a physical change to property in a manner that is lawful, with or without regulations, a vested right or interest is acquired under then existing circumstances, said Getty. The law doesn’t protect those that are in the discussion stages or are acquiring easement, according to Getty. Those that have acquired a permit and begun construction would have a vested right.

Raley said he had read the public’s comments and had visited the Pinnacle Wind Project on Green Mountain near Keyser and didn’t think the county is ready for comprehensive zoning.

“Shame on West Virginia and shame on that developer (of Pinnacle) because those turbines are noisy, they are irritating,” said Raley, adding that he once visited on a foggy day and could not see the wind turbines, but could still hear them. “I understand that is the fault of the turbine and the one that has been chosen to be put in place. Obviously, that company is paying the price to deaden that sound. I think it’s no secret that this board of commissioners does not embrace — as a group — wind energy.”

Because no decision was made, the commissioners will have to regroup to address the ordinance, said Raley.

If the ordinance were to go forward, there would still be time to address public issues and concerns before it could become effective, said Crawford.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com

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