BIA tells Osage County wind farm to obtain soil permit

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is calling a halt to preliminary ground work at an Osage County wind energy project.

Osage Agency Superintendent Robin Phillips has informed developers of the wind farm that a recent inspection at the site revealed excavation work being done which requires a permit from the Osage Minerals Council.

“Be advised that our records do not find that you have a Sand Soil Permit to perform such excavation of minerals,” the agency superintendent said in an Oct. 9 letter to Francesco Venturini, the president of Enel Green Power North American Inc.

Enel Green Power N.A. is the American division of a large, multi-national energy corporation that is parent company to TradeWind Energy, a Lenexa, Kan.-based firm which owns rights for constructing the 94-turbine, 150-megawatt Osage County Wind facility. The Osage Wind project is located near U.S. Highway 60, approximately 13 to 15 miles west of Pawhuska.

According to the letter, a large pit filled with crushed limestone was discovered at the site during a Sept. 29 inspection by a petroleum engineer technician, Raymond Whiteshield. Limestone in the pit “had been crushed into small rocks and piled around the wind turbine foundation,” the BIA letter said.

Phillips told the wind energy executive “to refrain from any further excavation of minerals until such time that you have obtained a Sandy Soil Permit through the Osage Agency.”

“Failure to comply,” said Phillips, “may result in this matter being forwarded to the Office of Field Soliciter for further action.”

Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear had asked the BIA to investigate activity at the wind farm two weeks ago after hearing reports alleging possible “unauthorized taking” of tribe-owned minerals from the site. Photographs were forwarded by the Chief’s office to the BIA which showed a rock-crushing machine in operation along State Highway 18, north of Fairfax.

Tribal officials have vehemently opposed the Osage County wind facility since it was proposed more than three years ago. In addition to mineral rights issues, the Osages have expressed concern about potential harm to archaeological sites and the danger turbines pose to eagles and other raptors. Tribal members also argued that the wind farms will detract from the natural beauty of the rugged area and damage the highway’s status as a “scenic byway.”

When the project was approved for construction in August 2011, it had been owned by a different company, Wind Capital Group of St. Louis. TradeWind acquired Osage Wind in late 2013 and, soon thereafter, proposed construction of another wind farm — Mustang Run — in the same vicinity.

Mustang Run was planned as a 136-megawatt facility with around 70 turbines. Last May, an Osage County regulatory board turned down a TradeWind request for a conditional-use permit that would have allowed for construction of the second wind farm. That decision is being appealed in district court, however.

A ruling on the Mustang Run appeal is expected Thursday, Oct. 23. TradeWind Energy and the Osage County Board of Adjustment are the primary parties in the case, which lists the Osage Nation and Osage Minerals Council as intervenors in the suit on behalf of the county. Trial briefs and responses have been submitted by each of the parties.

District Judge Robert Haney of Ottawa County was appointed to hear the appeal after two Osage County judges and one from Rogers County recused due to conflicts.