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Appeals launched over species protection

The state's attempt to balance wind power generation with wildlife protection on a western Maryland mountaintop is under attack from both sides.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The state's attempt to balance wind power generation with wildlife protection on a western Maryland mountaintop is under attack from both sides.

Annapolis-based developer Synergics Inc. is appealing a Public Service Commission hearing examiner's Oct. 30 recommendation for approval of the company's 17-turbine project atop Backbone Mountain in Garrett County. Synergics' appeal will focus on conditions proposed by the Department of Natural Resources to protect habitat for rare and endangered species, the company's spokesman said Friday.

Five opponents of the project, including Baltimore-based environmental activist Ajax Eastman and the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, also have appealed the recommended order. Most of them believe the environmental restrictions don't go far enough.

"Essentially, we feel that the proposed order does not adequately protect rare and threatened and otherwise protected species that may be on site, and want to make sure that the Public Service Commission approves projects that adequately research, study and contemplate impacts on wildlife," said Erik Bluemel, an attorney representing Eastman, MAGIC and Bowie-based environmentalist D. Daniel Boone.

The commission will receive all parties' written arguments by Dec. 30 and then issue a final order, PSC spokeswoman Bethany M. Gill said.

Synergics wants to place 17 giant, three-bladed windmills along a three-mile stretch of Backbone Mountain about 15 miles south of Deep Creek Lake. The company contends the 40-megawatt project would help electric utilities in Maryland meet a state-mandated goal of producing 7.5 percent of electricity from renewable resources by 2017.

Opponents have argued in previous filings that the turbines would do more environmental harm than good by killing large numbers of migrating birds and bats, marring the mountain landscape and disturbing neighbors with noise from their whirling blades.

Hearing Examiner David L. Moore generally rejected those arguments in his Oct. 30 decision but upheld 24 conditions proposed by the DNR to minimize environmental harm. One condition would bar construction in two sections of the project site to preserve habitat for 17 rare species, including the state-endangered mourning warbler, the state-endangered Allegheny wood rat and the globally rare timber rattlesnake.

Frank Maisano, who represents a coalition of Mid-Atlantic wind-power developers including Synergics, said Friday the company's appeal would "seek to make some clarifications" about the so-called exclusion zones.

"We will make some recommendations on how to resolve the issues in a fair way that protects the environment and still allows the project to be competitive," Maisano said.

He and Furqan Siddiqi, vice president of development for Synergics Energy Services, said in July that realigning the 420-foot turbines to avoid the exclusion zones could hurt the project because some turbines would be in less windy spots or in locations that would be costlier to service.

The other interveners filing appeals were Boone's brother Jon Boone, a Garrett County resident who contends Synergics has exaggerated the project's potential electricity output; and Washington-based attorney Paul C. Sprenger, a Garrett County land owner and developer concerned about a possible drop in property values.

The PSC granted permits in 2003 to two other western Maryland wind power projects but neither has been built. A 40-turbine project planned in Garrett County by Clipper Windpower Inc. is the subject of a court fight. A 24-turbine project planned in Allegany County by US Wind Force has been stalled by the company's negotiations with a potential buyer of the electricity, Maisano said in late October.