Wind-power developer challenges state's preservation recommendations

HAGERSTOWN -- A wind-power developer is threatening legal action over state recommendations for preserving habitat for rare and endangered species at the company's proposed work site in far Western Maryland.

Synergics Inc. says logging and coal mining is already disturbing the environment in and around areas that the Department of Natural Resources has deemed too fragile for wind-turbine construction. In an April 7 filing, the Annapolis-based company asked the Public Service Commission to consider the new information before deciding whether and under what conditions Synergics should be allowed to build its proposed 40-megawatt wind farm in Garrett County.

"Prior to a decision and order of the commission, and in the interest of avoiding a rehearing or judicial review, Synergics is bringing to the commission's attention evidence that should be included in the administrative record," the company's lawyer, Deborah E. Jennings, wrote.

The company asked the commission to reopen the record, which was closed in December after public hearings and submission of written arguments by Synergics and interested parties.

Assistant Attorney General M. Brent Hare, who is representing DNR's Power Plant Research Program and the Maryland Energy Administration in the case, said Thursday that he has asked those agencies to formulate a response to Synergics' document.

He said that even if, as Synergics contends, the property's private owner is cutting trees and widening an existing road in one of the proposed "exclusion zones," that doesn't negate the state's obligation under Maryland's Non-Game and Endangered Species Act to deny Synergics a permit that would jeopardize species protected under the act.

Private landowners in Garrett County don't need a state permit to log their own property, Hare said.

Synergics has proposed placing 17 windmills, each 420 feet tall, along nearly three miles of Backbone Mountain, Maryland's highest ridge. State utility regulators have approved two other such projects in Western Maryland but neither has been built.

DNR recommended in a Dec. 5 filing that Synergics be barred from building wind turbines or access roads on large parts of the proposed work site.

DNR said disturbing those areas would likely destroy habitat for the state-endangered mourning warbler, the state-endangered Allegheny wood rat, the globally rare timber rattlesnake and 14 other animal and plant species.

Synergics has argued that DNR's recommendations are overly broad and that complying with them would force it to redesign a project it already altered, partly in deference to DNR concerns about wildlife.

APR 14 2006
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