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Defense Dept. objects to wind turbines

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) said Thursday the Department of Defense has formally objected to the wind turbine project across the Chesapeake Bay in Somerset County.

Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) and St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said later that day they don’t know how Pioneer Green would be able to proceed in building wind turbines at that location with this formal objection.

“This is an exciting day,” Hoyer told an audience at the Southern Maryland Realtors Center in Hughesville. “It is my understanding that the Department of Defense either yesterday or the day before has signed a letter of formal objection to the wind turbine project in Somerset County,” he said.

The Oct. 30 letter from the U.S. deputy secretary of defense to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, states “that the proposed project ... would constitute an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States ... because it would significantly impair or degrade the capability of the Department of Defense to conduct research, development, testing and evaluation, and operations, or to maintain military readiness.”

Hoyer said in a statement, “this is a critical development in our efforts to protect” Patuxent River Naval Air Station and its 22,000 jobs.

The Great Bay Wind Energy project in Somerset proposes to erect at least 25 wind turbines, which could be as tall as 575 feet, as approved by that county’s planning commission this week.

That project would interfere with a unique and sophisticated radar system at Pax River, Hoyer said. A bill was passed in this year’s Maryland General Assembly to put off the Great Bay project by a year until the Massachusetts Institute of Technology completes a $2 million study on the compatibility of Pax River’s ADAMS radar system and the proposed wind turbines.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) vetoed that bill, citing his support of alternative energy.

However, the Great Bay project still had to go through the Federal Aviation Administration’s process in determining a finding of “no hazard.” The DoD issued a letter to the FAA this week, Hoyer said, that objects to the Great Bay project as detrimental to the mission of Pax River.

“Del. John Bohanan and I were confident that once the project was fully reviewed by the Department of Defense, after consultation with various service branches that utilize Pax River, that this would be the outcome,” Hoyer said. “It was the right decision, and I applaud the Department of Defense leadership for recognizing the threat this project poses to a critical national security asset.”

In Hughesville, Hoyer said, “This is harmful and undermines the ability of the ADAMS test range to operate in an effective fashion.

“I am for alternative energy. I am for wind. I am for solar. I am for waves,” he said. “I am not for them if they undermine a significant national security asset. This was a risk to Pax River not only in terms of the ADAMS radar test range, but in terms to the integrity of Pax River to this state.”

Somerset, on the lower Eastern Shore, is among the poorest counties in the state. Regarding the Great Bay project, Hoyer said, “The Somerset County commissioners have not approved this. They do need economic development in Somerset County. I want them to know that I intend to be helpful to them.”

A 2011 federal law put proposed development projects through a siting clearinghouse through the Department of Defense, Bohanan said later Thursday. “This is the first DoD formal objection ever since the law passed. It’s huge. Everybody assumed the DoD would never object.”

Asked if the Great Bay project can proceed with the DoD’s objection, Bohanan said, “I don’t see how it can. The company told the Somerset County commissioners if the DoD formally expressed objection because of national security, then they were out.”

Adam Cohen, vice president of Great Bay, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but did say earlier this month, “I’d love to see that letter from the Navy,” that was sent to the DoD before it wrote to the FAA .

Cohen said the Great Bay project was four years in the making, represented a $200 million investment to the state of Maryland and Pioneer Green already spent $4 million in permitting fees.

“We could have a win for the state,” he said. “The congressman and Bohanan are blocking clean energy right now. Talk about new businesses trying to come to Maryland after what we’ve been through. We’re moving forward, supported by a vast majority of Maryland.”

Morgan, a program manager for a defense contractor, said Thursday of the DoD’s objection to the project, “I think this should be the final nail.” Since this is the first time the DoD has made a formal objection to a project, “That is a cataclysmic statement,” he said. “Bohanan deserves credit on this one. He’s taken the ball down the court.”

“This was no partisanship in this effort,” Hoyer said. “We were all in this together. ... I was a soldier in John Bohanan’s army on this effort.”

Official calls it ‘final nail’ for Great Bay project