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Turbine suggestions rejected; Allegany County staff warn of proposed zoning code changes

Allegany County staff on Tuesday rejected a half dozen suggestions and critiques by US WindForce regarding proposed amendments to the county zoning code. US WindForce President Tom Matthews has said the loss of any more turbines to the planned Dan's Mountain project would eliminate the project from being a viable one. The county, however, has consistently presented a goal of balancing those business needs with adequate safeguards for its residents.

CUMBERLAND - Allegany County staff on Tuesday rejected a half dozen suggestions and critiques by US WindForce regarding proposed amendments to the county zoning code.

US WindForce President Tom Matthews has said the loss of any more turbines to the planned Dan's Mountain project would eliminate the project from being a viable one. The county, however, has consistently presented a goal of balancing those business needs with adequate safeguards for its residents.

Staff warned against changing, as US WindForce had suggested, the need for a special exception under certain conditions, the 1,000-foot separation distance from significant structures and the 2,000-foot separation from residential structures. The county also recommended keeping the proposed setbacks from property lines as well as the proposed environmental protections and the bonds for decommissioning electromagnetic interference.

Staff did recommend reducing the groundwater source protection radius to 1 mile from 3 miles. County Planning Coordinator Phil Hager said the 1-mile distance could be defended in court as nonarbitrary; that the distance is equal to about where public water systems pick up on similar ridgetops around the county.... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

CUMBERLAND - Allegany County staff on Tuesday rejected a half dozen suggestions and critiques by US WindForce regarding proposed amendments to the county zoning code.

US WindForce President Tom Matthews has said the loss of any more turbines to the planned Dan's Mountain project would eliminate the project from being a viable one. The county, however, has consistently presented a goal of balancing those business needs with adequate safeguards for its residents.

Staff warned against changing, as US WindForce had suggested, the need for a special exception under certain conditions, the 1,000-foot separation distance from significant structures and the 2,000-foot separation from residential structures. The county also recommended keeping the proposed setbacks from property lines as well as the proposed environmental protections and the bonds for decommissioning electromagnetic interference.

Staff did recommend reducing the groundwater source protection radius to 1 mile from 3 miles. County Planning Coordinator Phil Hager said the 1-mile distance could be defended in court as nonarbitrary; that the distance is equal to about where public water systems pick up on similar ridgetops around the county.

A key piece of evidence presented Tuesday was a map outlining the old LaVale Zoning District, the borders of which the county adopted when the district folded. The map is different than a 1925 U.S. Geological Survey map.

The former, Hager said, is much more accurate. The maps are important because LaVale zoning code and the LaVale Region Comprehensive Plan, which the commissioners adopted in May 2008, excludes industrial wind machines. Up to seven of the wind turbines as currently planned sit within the LaVale planning area.

"The LaVale zoning code does not recognize wind turbines as anything" such as a special exception or permitted use, Hager said. "In absence of that, it's prohibited."

The zoning must be consistent with the plan, said County Attorney Bill Rudd.

"There's no way to change it," Rudd said. "At the very least, it would be an amendment to the comprehensive plan. The plan already addressed this issue. It pretty much said no. That's out."

Hager said either map's accuracy would require nothing short of US WindForce reconfiguring its project. Local attorney Jamie Walsh, representing US WindForce, said private property owners petitioned the county a year ago to have their land excluded from the LaVale planning area where the majority of questionable wind turbines would be located.

"The county refused to accept the petition," Walsh said.

Matthews contended the map disparity is a "last minute" issue that inevitably will lead to exactly what the commissioners want to avoid - wind turbines closer to residents' homes.

Harwood Subdivision resident K. Darlene Park, whose home sits near the Dan's Mountain project, said county staff are "being protective by not giving US WindForce carte blanche."

She said she hopes the commissioners follow suit but feels, even with the regulations as discussed on Tuesday, the industrial wind project could still move forward.

"I think they've done an excellent job," Park said of county staff's efforts to develop industrial wind energy regulations. "I agree it's a give-and-take (issue). I feel it's fair."

The commissioners said little during Hager's presentation. Hager said the review process is naturally one of compromise but US WindForce had the responsibility of satisfying the requirements set forth by the county.

It wasn't the county's responsibility until the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2007 a law that allowed projects under 70 megawatts to sidestep thorough review and analysis by state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment. Before that law, the state Public Service Commission supervised all types of power plants, including industrial wind farms.

Now, however, the expectation of citizen protection has fallen to local government, Hager said, and "the applicant needs to assess the merits of the proposed site" with any regulations put in place.

US Wind Force representatives have countered that these proposed amendments to the county code should not be applied retroactively. After the meeting, during which no one but county staff and the commissioners were able to provide input, Matthews said his Pennsylvania-based company is keeping "all of our options open."

Those options include appealing to the Public Service Commission for guidance or seeking relief in court, Matthews said.

The commissioners are expected to take up the issue at their May 28 public work session. They could amend the proposed bill and vote on it that same day, Rudd said. They also could opt to allow for a public comment period.

Hager's complete presentation, including maps, can be viewed online at www.times-news.com.


Source: http://www.times-news.com/l...

MAY 20 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/20372-turbine-suggestions-rejected-allegany-county-staff-warn-of-proposed-zoning-code-changes
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