OSAGE COUNTY, Oklahoma – Part of the endless prairie view in Osage County will remain unchanged, for now. On Thursday night, The Osage County Board of Adjustment voted against building a controversial wind farm along Highway 60 between Pawhuska and Burbank. The decision essentially stops one of two wind farm projects.
TradeEnergy, the Kansas-based company behind the plan, said the turbines could help bring power to 45,000 customers and boost the economy, but those against it say the money is not worth the risk of possibly destroying habitat and large spreads of unique prairie land.
“Destroying the native prairie, we don’t have much of this, so we better take care of it. It’s so important to future generations and I think we need to look further than the end of our own nose,” said Frederick Drummond, whose family has owned ranch land in Osage County since statehood.
It’s a view you can only find in the rolling hills of Osage County. One with the sprawling tall grass prairies, grazing cattle and pump jacks popping for miles. A sight, some say, will be polluted with the spinning blades of 400 foot wind turbines.
“We’re trying to think, what’s best for the county, for the United States of America for the last of the tall grass prairie that people enjoy seeing,” Drummond said.
Drummond’s property backs up to the Mustang Run wind farm project, which was put on hold during Thursday night’s county meeting.
He is pleased with the decision, but Joe Bush, who owns the 5,000 acres where the 64 turbines would sit, is not.
“How come oil pumps are prettier than wind turbines, I think the wind turbines look good and it’s my land that I want to put them on,” Bush said. “I feel like what’s happened here is a travesty of justice and should be unconstitutional.”
There is one project, Osage Wind, that was approved two years ago and it is moving forward with its 94 turbines.
Already more than a dozen turbine parts are in a prairie about 20 miles west of Pawhuska, and dozer work has already begun.
“You can’t really claim that this is a green energy project, if you’re destroying native habitat, there’s other places you can build these things, so I think of it as a dirty, green project,” said Bob Hamilton, Nature Conservancy Director.
Hamilton said the turbines could be detrimental to the wildlife and change the migratory patterns of native birds in the area.
The Nature Conservancy and the The Osage Nation have been fighting against the projects for five years now. The tribe owns all the mineral rights in the county and says wind farms could disrupt its multi-million dollar oil & gas production.
“We’re not opposed to wind or renewable energy, what we’re opposed to is this horrible location for this,” said Osage Nation Advisor, Raymond Lasley.
The majority of people at the county meeting Thursday night opposed the wind farms, and while that did make Bush outnumbered, it did not keep him from being outspoken.
“It’s not our tall grass prairie, what they’re talking about is a part that’s mine,” said Bush.
Some in opposition said the wind farms were more about greed than green energy. Bush admits that is only part of it.
“It does make money and I’ve got a mortgage, that’s part of it. The bigger picture is, it’s renewable energy and it’s gonna be there for a long time. It’s an opportunity to replace the coal pollution,” said Bush.
When asked how much a property owner would stand to make off a wind farm, Bush said, “Plenty. It’s a significant sum and it’s important to me.”
One county leader said a factor into approving the Osage Wind project and not the Mustang Run project was because it’s closer to the natural, essentially untouched, 40,000 acres of the historic Tallgrass Prairie.
An attorney representing TradeWind would not comment on what will happen next.
Bush said the fight is far from over.
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