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Wind energy project approved

Despite a vow of continued resistance by officials from the Osage Nation, a proposed wind energy project west of Pawhuska cleared its final pre-construction hurdle last week following a public hearing that revealed wide general support for the developing industry.

Wind Capital Group hopes to now begin building the 94-turbine facility within a few months on 8,500 acres of leased prairie land located along U.S. Highway 60 west of Pawhuska. Completion is expected within about a year.

The project site runs for several miles beginning approximately 10 miles west of Pawhuska and continuing for some five miles.

An internationally-owned wind energy development company based out of St. Louis, Mo., Wind Capital began considering the Osage County project a little over three years ago, according to Tom Green, a senior manager for the firm who served as its spokesman at the hearing.

Two other companies are also considering similar projects in Osage County, which is seen as a prime development location because of favorable wind-related dynamics.

Approximately 150 people attended an Aug. 11 meeting, which was held at the Osage County Fairgrounds Ag Building. Around 18 people offered opinions for and against the wind turbine project during the session.

The majority of speakers expressed strong support for the energy project. At a similar hearing in March on a county ordinance regulating the new industry, dozens of opponents voiced concerns that the tall towers would negatively impact the prairie ecosystem and aesthetic appeal.

Major opposition to establishing wind farms on former Osage Reservation land was put forth in a powerful statement by Osage Nation spokesman Chris White, speaking on behalf of Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle.

White said the Osages are enlisting the support of the United States government in its efforts to disallow the wind energy companies from encroaching on tribal lands.

“These foreign-owned developers and their shills possess an attitude of doing what they please with the property rights of the Osage Nation and its neighbors,” said White. “This type of attitude – of taking what they want – is familiar to native people.”

White said the Osage Nation “will not allow this encroachment into our lands, into our property rights, into our ecosystem, and into our very culture.”

He said the tribe will protect its mineral estate as well as the Tallgrass Prairie under which it lies.

“If our requests continue to be ignored, then the Osage Nation will be left with no choice but to utilize every option available to us, including a vigorous court defense of our rights and our natural resources,” he said.

Opposition was also voiced by a neighboring landowner.

Ford Drummond, the owner of a 1,200-acre property adjacent to the land to be leased for the wind farm, expressed several concerns about the project. They included: environmental worries regarding the endangered Greater Prairie Chicken, the impact of the development on ranchers’ ability to conduct prescribed burns and possible dangers if a tornado struck the project.

Drummond also pointed out that, while current tax credits makes wind energy projects appealing, he is uncertain about their long-term viability in the future.

Nature Conservancy Director Mike Fuhr also had concerns about the impact the proposed Osage Wind Facility might have on the future survival of the Greater Prairie Chicken.

Leading off for the wind-farm proponents was John Herzig, superintendent of the Shidler Schools. Herzig told of the economic challenges currently faced by Oklahoma public school districts – especially those in rural areas.

“This project gives us a chance to cement one school’s future,” said the education official. “I am here tonight to speak for the next 30 years of kindergarten students coming through Shidler.”

When completed, the Osage Wind Facility will be designed to provide 150-megawatts of energy and company spokesmen estimate it will bring $300 million in economic activity and $30 million in property tax revenues to Osage County.