With foundations already finished for dozens of giant turbines, the federal government is no longer seeking a court order to stop construction of a wind-energy development near Pawhuska, officials confirmed Monday. But the fight isn’t over.
U.S. Attorney Danny Williams is pressing ahead with the larger lawsuit, accusing the wind development of violating the mineral rights of the Osage Nation. Each turbine foundation requires the excavation of a hole 50 feet wide and at least 10 feet deep – removing limestone and other valuable minerals that, under federal law, belong to the tribe, according to court records.
A federal judge had scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to consider a request or a court order to stop construction of the foundations, at least long enough for the lawsuit itself to come to trial. But the hearing became moot when the developer of the project, owned by Italian conglomerate Enel, said it had already finished building at least 84 foundations, according to court records.
The hearing was canceled, but that won’t end the federal lawsuit, which is not only demanding that the developers pay the tribe for the lost minerals but also remove any structures that have been “placed without authorization.” That presumably would include the turbines and their foundations, which the lawsuit argues should not have been built without a permit from the tribe.
Meanwhile Monday, the Osage Nation filed a lawsuit of its own in tribal court, asking for a “temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction” to stop further progress on the wind development.
The tribe amended its constitution last month to give Osage courts jurisdiction over “any activity by any person or entity which affects” the tribe’s mineral estate. But it’s not clear whether the tribe would be able to enforce a court order on private property, where Enel has signed leases for the turbine sites.
The tribe has long argued that wind developments will interfere with oil production, which is a major source of revenue for the Osage Nation, and that giant turbines would spoil the scenic beauty of the Osage prairie, which includes some of the last virgin tall grass in North America.
The Osage Wind project, currently under construction 15 minutes west of Pawhuska, is supposed to start producing electricity by next summer.
Enel also hopes to build a second development, with as many as 68 more turbines on adjacent properties.
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