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Hearings set for wind turbines in state forests

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will hold public hearings on Jan. 30 and 31 on whether the state should allow developers to build wind turbines in state forests, a proposal that is being advanced by a Pennsylvania company.

U.S. Wind Force is asking Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration for leases in the Potomac State Forest and Savage River State Forest in Western Maryland so it can clear about 400 mountaintop acres and raise about 100 wind turbines. The machines would be about 40 stories tall and visible from some of the region's most popular recreation areas, including Deep Creek Lake and the Savage River Reservoir (above).

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The state is considering whether to put these leases up for public bidding. But first state must decide on a broader policy about whether to allow turbines owned by private companies on public lands at all, officials said.

"Maryland is committed to developing clean, renewable energy sources that support a healthy environment," said DNR Secretary John Griffin. "However, our public lands belong to Maryland's citizens and it is critical they have a voice in a decision making process that could forever change our rural landscape."

The first meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Jan 30 at the Garrett College Auditorium, 687 Mosser Road in McHenry. The second meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Jan. 31 at the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert Street in Annapolis.

U.S. Wind Force has estimated that the leases could bring Maryland about $30 million over 20 years, although others have suggested the final figure could be significantly smaller than that after lease negotiations.

Advocates promote the wind turbines as a clean source of power and a way to fight global warming. But detractors say the windmills will be too unreliable as a source of electricity and will mar the scenic mountains of Western Maryland.

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for wind developers who also represents coal-fired power companies, said: "Not only will (wind power) provide essential environmental benefits for the state, the nation and the world, it will provide a great deal of economic development and tax revenue for the communities of Western Maryland.  In addition, the revenues from the few industrial sites on public land will also provide a state coffers with much-needed funding for improvements to state lands, controlling gypsy moth populations, preserving other properties as wilderness areas or for whatever purpose DNR deems necessary."

Among those who will be at the hearings protesting the development plan will be John Bambacus, former state senator from western Maryland from 1983 to 1991 and mayor of Frostburg from 1994 to 2002. He said he's going to ask friends and neighbors to attend the meetings and demand a ban on wind turbines in state parks or forests.

"My environmental frients are very much in favor of wind farms as a means to energy independence. But I use the analogy of what coal companies do with mountaintop destruction, where they take the mountains down and say they're making our nation more energy independent... It doesn't make any sense... We are destroying resources that can never be put back together again," said Bambacus, a former U.S. Marine and professor.

"The reason most people come to Westsern Maryland, either to live here to visit, is because of the scenic beauty of the mountains in Garrett and Allegany counties. It's kinda all we have. And I feel very strongly that, for one reason or another, things often occur up here in Western Maryland -- like the construction of prisons -- because it's the path of least resistance."

"Once you put these things up, you are going to destroy a resource that can never be replaced," said Bambacus. "It's very troubling to me that the governror is even considering this action."

On the other side of the debate is reader Barbara Glick of Columbia, who wrote a letter to The Sun. "Unless we get really serious about developing clean, efficient energy in this state there will be little left of our natural environment to enjoy.   Unchecked global warming is
projected to bring one to three foot sea-level rise to the Chesapeake Bay, which will doom
many wetlands and coastal tourism assets.   According to the U.S. EPA, warming could also reduce major agricultural yields by 40 percent in Maryland. And heat wave deaths in a much warming world would become public-health enemy No. 1, according to leading researchers at Johns Hopkins
School of Public Health. We shouldn't put wind farms everywhere, and no one's suggesting that. But Gov. Martin O'Malley is correct to consider approval of 100 windmills in the Savage River State Forest, an area already routinely logged by private timber companies. If we want to save these forests and our state as a whole, we need properly sited wind power now."

Alan Cohen of Catonville, a volunteer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, is one of the members of that group who supports the development project. "Wind power is clean, fights
global warming, and helps keep Maryland's tax dollars in the state instead of shipping them
to West Virginia for energy generated in part by devastating "mountaintop removal" coal
mining - which is the most ruinous way I know of, at least in this country, to get energy.....  We're not talking about pristine wilderness here. We're talking about state land that ready is
regularly logged and with trees already stunted by acid rain from coal-fired electricity use.
 This same forest area is now vulnerable to the coming megadroughts and wildfires of global
warming unless we switch to responsibly sited wind farms."

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