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Wind suits dismissed

PAWHUSKA – A district court judge dismissed two of three Osage County wind energy lawsuits Thursday, while clearing the way for continued development of a previously-approved turbine facility upon a solemn stretch of tallgrass prairie 15 miles west of Pawhuska.

Osage Wind is a 94-turbine project currently under construction between Pawhuska and Ponca City along U.S. Highway 60 near Burbank. Owned by Lenexa-Kan.-based TradeWind Energy, it would be the first wind-energy facility in the eastern half of Oklahoma. Thus far, access trails have been established to pads at the site where turbines are to be erected.

The TradeWind company has also proposed building another wind farm, Mustang Run, just east of the approved project. Last May, however, members of the Osage County Board of Adjustment voted to deny permission for the second facility, which was to include approximately 68 high-rise turbines.

In rulings issued Thursday, Ottawa County District Court Judge Robert G. Haney ordered dismissal of both cases in which the Osage Nation and Osage Minerals Council were listed as plaintiffs.

One turned down the tribe’s appeal of the Osage County Board of Adjustment’s 2011 decision to grant a conditional-use permit needed before the Osage Wind facility could be constructed. The other denied a declaratory judgment regarding the Osage County Board of Commissioners’ involvement in the wind farm approval process.

The third of the Osage County wind-energy lawsuits is TradeWinds’ appeal of a May 8 vote in which the Board of Adjustment denied the company’s request for approval of the Mustang Run proposal.

Even though the BOA voted approval of Osage Wind in September 2011, work has been slow to progress on the project. That is partly due to a string of legal challenges posed by the Osage Nation. The Pawhuska-based tribe has raised questions related to the impact the wind farms could possibly have on its mineral rights, as well as protection of Native American artifacts in the area.

Other issues raised involved threats to the environment – particularly in regard to the dangers the turbines will pose to eagles, which are deemed sacred by the Osages and many other tribes. The Osage Nation was joined by a broad spectrum of ranching interests and conservation groups in its resistance.

The original developer of Osage Wind was the Wind Capital Group of St. Louis. Wind Capital announced its plans to sell the Osage County project in September 2013, but the TradeWind Energy purchase was not completed until early this year.

Last week’s rulings came 20 days after Haney was specially-assigned to the three cases in the wake of recusals by two previous judges. Osage County’s M. John Kane recused due to conflicts involving family-owned property that were included in negotiations for the wind farm project. The impending retirement (reportedly at the end of this year) of Rogers County Special Judge Dynda Post is believed to have been an issue that led to his recusal.

Haney told all the parties in the case that he intends to consider only new evidence during the Mustang Run trial, which he reportedly said he would like to have started immediately. He indicated that he will base the bulk of his trial rulings on existing legal decisions from previous cases.

The judge gave the defendant in the case, Osage County’s Board of Adjustment, until Sept. 10 to submit its briefs for a trial. Attorneys for plaintiff Mustang Run were given until Sept. 17 for making responses to the new information.