Wisp Resort Set to Re-Open for Winter Operations

In February, Wisp Resort was forced by rain and temperatures in the 50’s to suspend skiing and snowboarding operations.

Now, in the midst of a cold and snowy March, Wisp Resort is anticipating a re-opening of winter operations sometime this week.

The exact day will depend on just how much natural snow they get from Winter Storm Stella and how much machine-made snow they can make with the colder temperatures.

With a depleted snow base and mild forecast, Wisp Resort closed for skiing two weeks ago after just 72 days of operation. It was their lowest number of operating days in the past ten years even though they had pumped more than 160 million gallons of water for snowmaking up to that date, the third highest total in the past ten years.

“The weather was pretty uncooperative this winter,” dryly noted Artie Speicher, Mountain Operations Director at Wisp.

“Mother Nature was testing our resolve, just like she is now. She’s given us another window this week, so we’re going to make the most of it.”

The Deep Creek Lake Area received 5 inches of snow on Friday, March 10 along with temperatures dipping into the single digits.

Wisp’s snowmaking team will be making snow as weather permits this week, and Winter Storm Stella is expected to add several more inches of natural snow Tuesday.

The resort suggested skiers and snowboarders check www.wispresort.com and Wisp’s Facebook page for updates and opening announcements.

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Maryland fracking regulations could serve as a model to other states

It is a challenging time to be the president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau, especially as a young man working his way through college.

Garrett County is a rural community. I have grown up on my family’s farm, helping to produce the hay and raise the goats and vegetables that are currently funding my tuition.

The farmers that I represent are hardworking people who deserve to be able to use their land as they choose — this includes using the resources it contains. However, we are experiencing an increased influx of people from urban and suburban areas of the state trying to dictate and legislate what is best for us.

Fifteen years ago, the issue was windmills; today, it is fracking.

The Garrett County Farm Bureau has been advocating for our farmers’ ability to safely and responsibly drill for gas on their own land for over 10 years and now we are at a turning point. It is critical now that we do not completely ban hydraulic fracturing in Maryland and cut off a tremendous amount of opportunities for residents of Garrett County.

People often want to know why farmers like hydraulic fracturing. From our perspective it isn’t about hydraulic fracturing at all. It is about accessing and producing natural gas from resources on our own land.

For everyone living in urban and suburban areas, fracking is making your air cleaner to breathe, slashing the costs of natural gas and products made from natural gas, improving the national economy and allowing us to export gas to foreign countries.

For my farmers, it does all of that as well as enable them to recover the value of the gas they own.

The farm community has been quietly accommodating the impacts of residential development around Deep Creek Lake on our community for a long time now. If our gas production requires the Deep Creek community to accommodate a little, we expect the same courtesy we have been extending to them.

There are certainly people in the community who love recreational industries and are passionately opposed to gas production. They believe it will somehow inhibit their ability to use and make money off tourism at Deep Creek. But there are also people in the community who would love to produce gas and have no interest in recreational industries. All of them have the same constitutional right to use their own property in the way they choose. The state does not have the right to arbitrarily allow some to choose and others not. The trick is to find a path that is respectful of everyone and asks everyone to compromise some.

That was the precise goal of the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative and the protracted negotiations about regulations among the various stakeholders that have taken place over the last five years. The goal of the Farm Bureau has been to establish regulations that protect our farms as well as the surrounding community. We think the proposed regulations do that.

There is nothing like them anywhere else in America. If someone shows you a drilling practice in another state you don’t like, there is a strong possibility it is prohibited here in Maryland.

We have been producing and storing gas here since 1955, and the gas industry is a valuable part of our economy. We would like that to continue and grow with the addition of jobs, royalties and taxes from shale production in Maryland.

Before Gov. Martin O’Malley created the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, he weighed the same question that is before the Maryland Legislature right now: Ban fracking or regulate it. His assessment was that as a state with a small amount of producible reserves surrounded by states with a large amount of producible reserves upstream from Maryland, it would be in Maryland’s best interest to create the tightest possible regulations and then use our influence and our power as a consumer to move our regulations into the surrounding states. He was right.

If we bury these regulations now with a ban, we will be wasting millions of dollars that have been spent developing the regulatory process and denying landowners the right to develop their gas resources. But the real cost will be to the environment, because we did not have the courage to pursue his vision to the end and influence the people who produce gas for Maryland in other states to do it to in a way that Maryland finds acceptable.

Aaron Lantz is president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau.

 

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Organic Farmers Don’t Want Drilling on Their Doorstep

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).

Story by Mary Greene of the Environmental Integrity Project. Photos by Karen Kasmauski and Garth Lenz of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Note: this story is part of a collaborative photojournalism project, “The Human Cost of Energy Production,” about the threat of expanded fracking for natural gas to rural areas of Pennsylvania and Western Maryland, which readers can view byclicking here.

Walking the Backbone Food Farm, located in Oakland, Maryland, with Katharine Dubansky and her two youngest children, it’s easy to see the appeal of organic farming.

Alongside field after field of vegetables, there are pens and pastures where pigs, goats, sheep, and cows while away their days. The wind turbines on Backbone Mountain that produce kilowatt after kilowatt of clean power stand sentinel over the property, as though in tribute to and guardian over the Dubansky’s production of sustainable, safe food. When they are new to the farm, little piglets slip the fence and run loose. Eventually, one of the many free-roaming Dubansky dogs will scoot the piglets back under the fence, squealing, toward their mothers.

In a way, Backbone Food Farm is emblematic of the appeal of western Maryland. Although most farms in this valley are not organic, there are very few factory farms or other large-scale, industrial farming operations in this part of Garrett County. The terrain is rugged and mountainous and doesn’t always yield easily to a plow. According to Katharine, most of the farmers in the Oakland area are reformed Amish. Like her Amish neighbors, Katharine is strong and hearty. She has capable, intelligent eyes and walks with an easy confidence.

She and her husband, Max, came to organic farming quite naturally. Max’s father was an organic farmer in Grantsville and he was working another organic farm in Flintstone, Maryland when he and Katharine were introduced through mutual friends. Young and unafraid of hard physical work, their interest in organic farming grew as their relationship blossomed. Katharine, who had recently graduated from college, gave up her intended career as a teacher to pursue their mutual dream.

As she attends to chores, Katharine explains that an energy company may construct a compressor station – a large, industrial complex used to transmit compressed natural gas through a pipeline – just a mile and a half from their farm. If the fracking ban is lifted, private property leased to oil and gas companies will be drilled. Once production begins, more and more compressor stations and other infrastructure, like pipelines, storage tanks, impoundments, processing plants, and ugly elbows of pipe that protrude from the ground called “pig launchers” will litter the landscape. As has happened in western Pennsylvania, small towns will be overrun with railcars and endless lines of trucks carrying explosive natural gas liquids.

It’s hard to imagine what the threat of fracking means to these hardworking, earnest people. Katharine and Max’s entire lives are bound to their 106 acres of land. Their oldest daughter, recently graduated from high school, bought sheep with her graduation money and intends to stay on and manage the livestock. Even their beloved but departed milk cows remain fixtures in their lives and on this farm, their sun-bleached skulls adorning the red-picket fence that runs alongside their farmhouse. As the two youngest girls, Tessa, 6 and Iris, 9, show off their new litter of bunnies, Katharine whispers her concern. “How can …flares and diesel fumes work here?”

A supporter of Citizen Shale, she is opposed to fracking and doesn’t want to see western Maryland ravaged in pursuit of a finite quantity of natural gas. She considers herself an environmentalist and understands the risks that fracking poses to both her financial livelihood and health. She is not a NIMBY (“not in my back yard” ) person who objects to any kind of energy development near her farm. For example, she had no problem with the construction of the large wind turbines on the ridge over their property a few years ago.  But she is worried that the oil and gas industry would introduce more intense disruption of their lifestyle – with pollution, noise, and truck traffic.

Katharine is also torn over how vocal she can be. She and Max sell their meat and produce, including beautiful mushrooms grown in the wooded portion of their farm, mostly at the local farmers markets. Many of the patrons come from Deep Creek Lake, the wealthiest community in Garrett County. “Those folks make the drive because they know they’re buying safe, healthy, locally grown food. Fracking will destroy that,” Katharine explains as she shows off the rustic cottage on the property they rent to cross-country skiers in the winter. “But at the same time, I risk alienating the relationships I have now with customers and other vendors if I get too mouthy about it.”

Most of the elected officials in Garrett County are pro-drilling, and for the most part, the county is more conservative than the rest of the state. As lawmakers and citizens continue to debate the pros and cons of opening western Maryland to fracking, people like the Dubanskys will need to decide where they stand, and how strong their voices will be. For now, Katharine is watching, listening, and boning up on her research.

As she walks back toward the farmhouse, where she finds Max taking a break to give Tessa a piggyback ride and twirl her around, she contemplates her next move.

With earth-stained hands on hips and feet firmly planted on the ground, she admits: “I may have to jump into this thing whole hog. But I have to be careful. I can get quite passionate.”

Support the work of the International League of Conservation Photographers by donating at this link.

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Autumn Glory photo contest deadline nears

The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce is celebrating the 50th Annual Autumn Glory Festival with a photo contest open to all photographers.

The winning photo of the county’s fall foliage/colors will be published as the cover of the Autumn Glory Festival brochure. The photographer will be recognized at the Autumn Glory Kickoff Reception with two complimentary tickets.

Photo entries must be postmarked by March 31. Winners will be announced on the chamber website, www.visitdeepcreek.com, by May 31.

All entries must be original photographs taken within the past two years. Photos must be a vertical shot.

Entries may be submitted via email to jen@garrettchamber.com or via thumb drive or CD/DVD to Garrett County Chamber of Commerce, 15 Visitors Center Drive, McHenry, MD 21541.

There is a limit to 10 photos submitted per photographer.

The entry should include photographer’s name, phone number, email, mailing address, and location and approximate date of photo.

Photographers release the rights to the chamber to use their photograph in print or online media with photograph credit if possible.

For more details, go to www.visitdeepcreek.com or call 888-387-5237.

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The case for a Maryland fracking ban

Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Two bills are pending. One bans fracking altogether, while the other extends the moratorium for two years — though it departs from the current moratorium by permitting fracking in counties that approve it by referendum. On the ban bill, 23 of the Senate’s 33 Democrats are co-sponsors; the moratorium bill has 24 co-sponsors, including several Republicans.

In the House of Delegates, leadership declared long ago that a frack-free Maryland was its preference. A ban bill is advancing, and there is no moratorium bill. After committee hearings, legislation may go to the floor of each chamber for further debate. If the House and Senate don’t pass the same bill, some sort of compromise is required before any legislation can be approved and sent to the governor for his consideration.

About three-fourths of Marylanders already live in a place where local elected officials have created anti-fracking laws or resolutions. But fracking is regulated by the state. So, for those who’ve worked for six legislative sessions on the issue, the “heavy lift” is in the Maryland Senate.

Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Maryland did not rush into fracking. Successive administrations studied the technology, then overhauled outdated regulations. Meanwhile, energy prices continued to fall. The industry allowed nearly all of its original sub-surface mineral leases purchased last decade to lapse.

Furthermore, Maryland lacks the large-scale deposits, pipeline and processing infrastructure, and interest from industry (in the form of leased mineral rights) needed to make large-scale fracking financially feasible today. Yet we can’t rule out a change of circumstances that drives up fossil fuel prices — setting set off a new round of leasing that leads to fracking in years ahead.

Meanwhile, mounting problems elsewhere show the technology cannot be effectively regulated. In Pennsylvania recently, investigators from Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit, dug up previously undisclosed citizen complaints about water contamination from fracking. Their work took years. Far from regulators’ 280-odd citations against industry, Public Herald found some 4,100 complaint filings — all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled. There’s more. It appears that the vast majority were never investigated. Then unresolved original complaints were shredded. Hundreds of state law violations were documented, and Flint, Mich.-style government criminality is a possibility.

In recent weeks in Western Maryland, many residents were infuriated by the Senate president’s public remarks that “there are no jobs whatsoever” in that part of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate in Western Maryland in 2016 was almost identical to the state average, and lower than some counties. Long gone are the days that Mountain Maryland depended overly on extractive energy and assembly line work.

Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two-thirds of Garrett County’s tax base. Some of the highest-value rural real estate in the eastern United States lines the shores of Deep Creek Lake — second only to Ocean City as a vacation destination for Marylanders. Generations have visited and created the magical memories that many families cherish forever.

To state the obvious, nowhere in the world do fracking and world-class tourism mix. That’s why in Florida right now, with Republicans in charge, the legislature is considering a fracking ban. Florida’s economy is Deep Creek’s, writ large.

Additionally, fracking is “anti-business”: While a few short-term jobs may be created, most Western Marylanders — like others in a state where the solar industry grew 40 percent in 2015 — prefer small-business ownership, with sustainable economic investments in tourism, agriculture and green energy.

Mountainside solar installations are burgeoning. Indeed, Western Marylanders want the same future as the rest of the state. Most polls show that a strong majority of Garrett and Allegany county residents want the fracking ban that Marylanders as a whole support.

Is this another “jobs versus environment” debate? Not at all. Nationally, less than 10 percent of jobs on a well-pad are unionized. Along with embalmers and theater projectionists, zero petroleum engineers belong to unions.

The Laborers International Union recently came out in support of fracking and staged a rally in Annapolis. In a union with a proud tradition of training workers in emerging industries, wouldn’t organizing solar-industry installers sustain and grow its membership?

Finally, there’s the matter of fracking’s effect on global climate change. Farmers statewide are already feeling the effects of erratic precipitation, unpredictable freezes and bigger storms. This year, the annual “Winterfest” festival in Oakland, Md. (the state’s “snowiest” town) was postponed due to spring-like weather.

Scientists agree that fossil fuel combustion is driving planetary warming. And new scientific analysis confirms that fracked gas is nearly as bad as coal for the atmosphere. That’s because, before it is burned at distant power plants or on your stovetop, natural gas (mostly methane) is constantly leaking from wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations. Estimates of leakage vary from about 2 percent of production to more than 10 percent. Overall, carbon dioxide is a more potent greenhouse gas, but in the short-term — measured in 20-year periods —methane is orders of magnitude more detrimental. So the life-cycle warming impact of gas rivals coal. To save our climate, we have to steadily move off of gas, not increase its use through reckless fracking.

For Maryland’s economy, health and environment, we need to ban fracking once and for all. This drilling method will never be safe. We have all of the data we need on that. Now we just need the political will of our leaders in Annapolis to finally do the right thing.

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