Judge orders permit for wind farm

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Rotor blades were installed Monday on the first turbine to be completed at the Osage Wind energy project site 20 miles west of Pawhuska.

Over the past week, approximately a dozen of the 400-foot steel towers have been erected for the wind farm — a proposed 150-megawatt facility that is to include 94 turbines. TradeWind Energy of Lenexa, Kan., is developing the controversial project on nearly 10,000 acres of leased prairie land located along U.S. Highway 60 near Burbank.

Preliminary work started earlier this year at the site, which was approved for a wind farm in 2011. Construction has been slowed partly because of a transfer of the project’s ownership from the original company (Wind Capital Group) to TradeWind. Additional delays have resulted from litigation brought by the Osage Nation — which has spearheaded opposition to the wind farm based mainly on environmental concerns.

Last week, a district court judge ordered an Osage County regulatory board to grant a permit allowing for construction of a second TradeWind Energy development, Mustang Run Wind Project, which is to be built on property that adjoins the Osage Wind project.

Mustang Run was denied a conditional use permit May 8 by the Osage County Board of Adjustment. The denial followed a public hearing at which considerable community opposition was expressed to Mustang Run and Osage Wind, which already had been granted a permit. TradeWind appealed the board’s decision in Osage County District Court.

In its refusal to grant the permit for Mustang Run, board members cited a desire to preserve the unique prairie landscape on which the project was to be located.

Arguments raised at the hearing alleged negative effects the wind-turbine developments would allegedly have on adjacent property values — as well as the possible endangerment to area wildlife, particularly eagles and prairie chickens. The Osage Nation also claimed the wind projects posed threats to tribal mineral interests and archaeological sites.

In the order filed Wednesday, District Judge Robert Haney ruled that the arguments presented in opposition to the wind farm were “speculative” and “without merit.” Haney, from Miami, had been assigned to the case following the recusal by District Judge John Kane of Pawhuska, whose family owns property which is being leased in connection with at least one of the projects.

The Ottawa County judge said he did not believe the wind farms negatively impact property values “as the property in this area is primarily cattle and/or horses.” As for the impact of the developments on the viewshed, Haney said that would be negligible compared to that of the oil tanks and drilling rigs already present in the area.

“The best that the court can determine is the board did not think that a wind farm fits within their ‘vision’ for Osage County and/or for adjacent land owners,” the judge stated.

Haney added that the county and its residents will benefit from tax monies and lease payments, which he said provides a “plus side” to the proposition. He also pointed out that energy production through wind power has been a priority of both the state and federal governments.

Speaking about the board’s earlier approval of the Osage Wind project, the judge said, “It seems inconsistent for one board to say yes and a subsequent board to say no for the same area with no definite reason therefore.”

Haney previously had turned down two requests for injunctions that would have halted work on the Osage Wind project, which is now under construction.