ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate voted Saturday to put a 13-month moratorium on the development of tall wind turbines within 56 miles of the U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River base in southern Maryland, a move that critics say will jeopardize a wind farm in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore.
The Senate voted 31-16 to delay construction in order to wait for a study on how wind turbines could affect radar use around the base. The height restrictions in the bill vary depending on how many miles away from the base the turbines would be.
Supporters of the measure say the base is a crucial economic engine in southern Maryland with about 22,000 employees. They say Maryland needs to be sympathetic to the interests of the base, as future U.S. military base realignment and closure procedures could cause other states to argue for reasons to move the base away from Maryland.
"The problem is if we fail to pass this bill, it's going to send a message, and these other places that are looking to come to Maryland and wrest some of the activities out of our military installations are going to have an argument that's going to resonate with the BRAC people," Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel, said.
But opponents argued the measure sends a bad message to businesses and harms wind farm development in Maryland.
"All this bill does is say give 13 months to let the science work itself out," said Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George's. "Let's make economic growth and environmental protection work together."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a strong supporter of wind energy, has expressed concern about the legislation. Nina Smith, an O'Malley spokeswoman, said Saturday the administration "has concerns about the potential of this bill and oppose it in its current form."
"We continue to work with members of the General Assembly to forge a compromise that recognizes the concerns of Patuxent River while still allowing the Somerset project to move forward," Smith said in an email on Saturday after the Senate vote.
The Senate vote sends the bill back to the House of Delegates. The Senate amended the House bill that would require House approval to send the bill to O'Malley.
Maryland's legislative session is scheduled to end Monday at midnight.