Along a windswept highway with a view that stretches for miles across the Osage County prairie, tribal officials spotted a front-loader dumping limestone into a rock crusher.
They suspected the activity, first seen last month north of Fairfax along Oklahoma 18, was connected to the Osage Wind Project, a sprawling wind farm in the early stages of construction. The Osage Nation has fiercely opposed the wind farm since it was first announced, and the tribe has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the development.
The rock crusher offered a new way to fight it. The Osage Nation owns mineral rights for all of Osage County, including the rights to subsurface rock. To crush and remove rock for an ongoing highway project between Bartlesville and Pawhuska, for example, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation negotiated a per-ton royalty with the tribe.
If the wind farm wants to dig up and crush rock, apparently to build the foundations for dozens of giant wind turbines, it needs permission from the tribe, Osage officials say.
In a letter dated Oct. 9 to Enel Green Power North America, which owns the wind farm project, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs told the developers to “refrain from any further excavation of minerals” until they obtain what’s known as a sandy soil permit.
But construction of the wind farm continues, an Enel spokeswoman said Wednesday night, contradicting an earlier statement from a project spokesman who said it had stopped.
“The Osage Wind Project believes it has all the permits required by law to construct the wind farm,” developers told the Tulsa World by email. “Dirt and rock excavated for the foundations is being used only to backfill the location from which it was excavated and not for any other purpose. The Osage Wind Project is not mining or removing material from the site.”
The tribe, meanwhile, vowed to “do what is necessary to defend our homeland.”
“At stake,” the tribe said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon, “is the destruction of beauty of the tallgrass prairie that we call home, the destruction of Osage burial sites and other cultural resources, and the taking of Osage minerals that has been the economic lifeblood of Osages for over a century.”
If the company needs a sandy soil permit to continue construction, it would require approval from the tribe’s Minerals Council, Osage officials said.
And the council has always argued that the development is an obstacle to oil production, which is a major source of revenue for the tribe. As one Osage official put it this week, the wind farm developers “won’t find any friends on the council.”
Approved by the Osage County Board of Adjustment in 2011, Osage Wind is planned to include 94 turbines, each about 400 feet tall, spread across more than 8,000 acres west of Pawhuska.
Earlier this year, the Board of Adjustment denied permission for a separate wind farm called Mustang Run, which would have been located closer to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve north of Pawhuska.