Pawhuska, Okla.—After years of fighting wind energy development on the Osage Reservation, the struggle continues for the Osage Nation, landowners, investors and conservationists. Their mutual opposition, Trade Wind Energy, continues a steady move forward with a combined wind energy project of more than 150 wind turbines across thousands of acres of Osage Prairie.
TradeWind bought Osage Wind for $60 million in April; TradeWind is a subsidiary of the second largest Italian utility company, Enel S.P.A.
More than two years ago the Osage County Board of Adjustment issued a variance to allow the Osage Wind Project to move forward and construction is underway. For months, monster size turbine parts have been moving across the county to their Osage destination. The variance issued then is still scrutinized by Osage attorneys regarding its’ legitimacy.
“There was a variance issued and not a conditional use permit which is clearly a prerequisite,” said Ian Shavitz, legal counsel for the Nation. “We believe the laws that are on the books, with respect to wind energy ordinance and the zoning ordinance, were not properly followed and we want to make sure that they are properly followed because we believe if they are the Board of Adjustment will find that the criteria that must be looked at weigh against approving a wind energy project.”
Trade Wind Director of Project Development, Aaron Weigel, and Rex Duncan, Osage County District Attorney, maintained a close proximity to the three district Osage County commissioners during the commissioners meeting on May 5. Immediately after a controversial “clarification” allowing the Board of Adjustment to authorize a conditional use permit passed unanimously, Weigel exited the meeting and refused to comment, stating, “[Trade Wind] are refusing all media inquiries at this time.”
After the resolution was passed without comment by the commissioners, Wilson Pipestem, Osage Nation attorney, requested the contents of the resolution, “would it be possible for us to know what is in the resolution?”
Commissioner Bob Jackson read the resolution out loud and Commissioner Scott Hilton summarized, “basically all we’re doing is reaffirming that the Board of Adjustment does have the authority to make this decision (authorize conditional use permits for wind energy projects).”
Pipestem also asked the commissioners to clarify if the Board of Adjustment would hear public comment before voting for a conditional use permit. Duncan responded that public comment is part of their policy but he could not guarantee that the board would be hearing public comment at their May 8 meeting at the Osage County Fairgrounds.
Last month, the board listened to a lengthy presentation by TradeWind about the benefits of wind energy for Osage County during a public meeting. The presentation was followed by public comment mostly against wind energy development. The board urged audience members in favor of wind energy to speak up and three members of the audience spoke in favor after several anti-wind energy comments.
“If the process does not allow for public input from Osage County citizens, the process leads to questions about whether or not people were listened to … if there were conflicts it undermines the public’s confidence in the processes and outcomes of those decisions,” said Pipestem about the current and past process paths of the commissioners and the Board of Adjustment.
Also at issue is a conflict of interest regarding Commissioner Jackson who currently has an Osage Wind lease. Jackson did not recuse himself from voting for the resolution. Pipestem addressed the existing conflict of interest to the commissioners before their vote.
“We will provide a more formal letter about our concerns about conflicts of interest and hopefully understanding that conflict is based on an opinion by the Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma about those requirements,” he stated.
Pipestem and Shavitz along with Protect the Osage, a group comprised of ranchers, landowners, conservationists, oil companies and the Osage Nation, provided the commissioners with a lengthy document urging the commissioners and the board to, “not take any other actions that would authorize or further TradeWind Energy’s proposed Osage Wind and Mustang Run Industrial Wind facilities in Osage County.”
The document, dated April 30, 2014, states:
Proposed construction includes more than 150 massive wind turbines weighing 250 tons each with above ground transmission lines. During TradeWind’s presentation to the Board of Adjusment last month Weigel talked about the turbines not being obtrusive to the protected prairie lands. Only a small fraction of landowners will benefit from wind energy lease income.
Ford Drummond, landowner, spoke at the last meeting, “I’m not very happy about 400 foot wind turbines surrounding my property on three sides … do you think that will have an impact on my private property?” Drummond continued, “land adjacent to wind farms can lose value from 30 to 40 percent.”
Money and Taxes
TradeWind claims their project will provide funding for public education, specifically Shidler Public Schools. The coalition’s data clarifies the source of this funding comes from $193 million annually in state incentives from Oklahoma paid to TradeWind. These incentives take away from state funding for education and infrastructure.
Comparatively, “a fifth of all taxes from oil and gas production [from the Osage minerals estate] is earmarked for roads, bridges and education,” said Andrew Yates, Osage Minerals Council Chair who was present at the commissioners’ meeting. “It’s about $25 million from gross production taxes over the last seven years. That’s money to the state not from the state.”
“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fact that government has given a tax rebate to encourage wind farms,” stated Fred Drummond during the meeting last month.
The killing of eagles
The proposed development threatens the breeding and migratory path of Bald and Golden Eagles.
Speaking in favor of the wind farm Jerry Butterbaugh, landowner, stated that feral cats are the greatest threat to birds and account for millions of bird deaths every year. He went on to say that he had trouble finding any data to support any claims that 440 foot wind turbines would be any threat to eagles.
Chris White, Osage County resident stated, “I’d like to meet the cat who could kill an eagle.”
Protect the Osage cites several cultural resources and sites pre-dating treaty making with the United States.
“One of our first buffalo trails goes along highway 60,” stated Raymond Lasley about the intended foot print of TradeWind targeted areas. Lasley provided several letters of support from area landowners.
Board of Adjustment
Protect the Osage Coalition plans to be a visible and a vocal presence at the May 8 Board of Adjustment meeting, 6 p.m. at the Osage County Fairgrounds. The decision to approve a conditional use permit was tabled last month and is scheduled to be revisited at the meeting.
Regarding the validity of the commissioners’ resolution granting the board the authority will be called in to question again, “[the commissioners] claim [the board of adjustment] have always had the authority and we continue to maintain the position that they never had the authority to make this decision. They have the authority to issue conditional use permits but not for wind projects … [the resolution] is an action that has no real substance to it,” said Shavitz.
For more information about Protect the Osage Coalition visit: ProtectOsage.com. For more information about TradeWind Energy visit: tradewindenergy.com.
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