PAWHUSKA — Many in the crowd cheered Thursday evening as the Osage County Board of Adjustment voted to deny a Kansas-based wind energy company’s application for a permit to build a wind farm on sections of tallgrass prairie near Pawhuska.
After returning from a roughly 20-minute executive session that board Chairman Mike Render said was necessary to discuss legal issues, three of the board’s four voting members decided to deny TradeWind Energy a conditional-use permit to build the 16,000-acre Mustang Run wind farm.
Terry Loftis, the board’s other voting member, abstained, clearly disappointed in actions taken — and not taken — by both those supporting and opposing the TradeWind Energy project.
“There has to be a way for better communication and better levels of cooperation on both sides, where both sides not only take but both sides give and try to reach an accommodation,” Loftis said. “There has to be.”
The question of whether to allow industrial wind complexes to be built in Osage County has divided residents for years, but debate intensified in recent months as TradeWind Energy sought a permit for construction of its Mustang Run project and purchased the Osage Wind project, another area wind farm that is currently under construction.
A different company owned the Osage Wind project in 2011 when the Osage County Board of Adjustment issued the project a variance that allowed construction to begin.
TradeWind Energy obtained land for both wind farm projects by leasing acreage from private landowners. Some in favor of the Mustang Run project argued that private property rights should prevail and that land owners should be allowed to lease their land for a wind farm if they wish.
Those in favor of the project cited the positive effects they believe wind energy will have on the area environmentally and economically, particularly in the form of revenue for the local school district.
However, a significant number of groups were fighting for the board to deny the permit. The Protect Osage Coalition consists of 12 entities, including the Osage Nation, that opposed the project’s location.
Representatives say most, if not all, coalition members are in favor of “clean” wind energy. What they are opposed to is the location of TradeWind’s projects, they said.
Reasons for opposition vary but include arguments that development will harm bald eagles, golden eagles, greater prairie chickens and the tallgrass prairie itself.
Before the board voted on whether to issue the permit, a decision it had tabled at its April meeting, board member Rick Hendrick addressed the crowd of roughly 100 who attended the meeting in the Agriculture Building at the Osage County Fairgrounds.
Hendrick said private property owners’ rights are very important to him and that the board should respect TradeWind Energy’s application. The company is doing exactly what the state and federal government want it to do take advantage of incentives for development, he said.
But Hendrick also acknowledged the significant losses that he said he believes are associated with the Mustang Run project.
“I see loss of habitat and loss of something unique to the county,” Hendrick said. “When I balance all of that, wind farms are good, but I’m not sure this is the right place for them.”
The board of adjustment also considered a petition filed by the Osage Nation that asked that construction be stopped on the Osage Wind project. The project received a variance in 2011, but a conditional permit is what is required for construction, said Ian Shavitz, a lawyer representing the tribe.
The petition asked that ongoing construction be stopped until and if ever TradeWind Energy obtains the proper permits required by local wind energy ordinances.
The board members again excused themselves for a much shorter executive session. Upon returning, the vote was unanimous to deny the Osage Nation’s petition: Construction on the Osage Wind project can continue.
When Shavitz asked, the board would not clarify its grounds for denial.
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