- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Our opinionPatuxent River Naval Air Station is vital to the economic well-being of St. Maryís County. This is a given.
It is vital to all of Southern Maryland. Everyone involved in the regionís governments and public institutions knows this and is attuned to working cooperatively with Navy officials.
Go farther afield, however, and the ties are not so close and the benefits of the Navyís presence not so obvious.
But the fact is that Pax River gives an enormous boost to the entire economy of Maryland. Thatís the reason for a new law that places a protective ring around a 46-mile radius of the Navy base.
The reason is to make sure wind turbines donít interfere with ADAMS radar systems at Pax River. On radar, a cluster of wind turbines can look like aircraft.
And so the state legislature earlier this year passed a law, which took effect this month, to add an extra layer of review. The law requires the Public Service Commission to certify certain clusters of small wind turbines in this 46-mile radius of Pax River, just as it must certify larger ones.
Because this is a state law, of course it doesnít apply to the Northern Neck of Virginia or a sliver of Delaware within that zone. Those areas are not a primary concern of the Navyís radar operations in any case. But Southern Maryland and much of the Eastern Shore are, and although the bill passed overwhelmingly with little attention, there has been some brushback from certain quarters, particularly Somerset County, which hopes wind farms might help a lagging economy there.
Itís understandable that local governments across the bay bristle at this restriction. St. Maryís County officials complain about state rules on everything from school funding and land use to federal targets for pollution reduction running into the Chesapeake Bay. Now the state says itíll decide if Somerset County can put up a small windmill?
Protecting the radar systems at Pax River makes sense to us because our economic interests are clear. But in St. Maryís the median family income in 2011 was $88,444. In Somerset County, it was about half of that.
But thatís precisely the point. Pax River and the revenue it brings to Maryland does aid Somerset County, and other jurisdictions that are not as fortunate as St. Maryís to host a facility like Pax River.
There is a great deal of competition throughout the nation for the programs and work at Pax River and the money that they bring, and real uncertainty about the future of military budgets. It makes sense for any state to be welcoming to these facilities and to help secure their future.
The new law as it is applied doesnít have to be onerous. It doesnít have to shut down wind farms, if they truly are viable for Somerset County. It just means that their impact on a critical radar system at Pax River must be reviewed, understood and mitigated.
Remember, too, that this is not just important to Marylandís economy. It is a matter of national security. It really is.