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Osage Nation Opposes Wind Farm Development In Osage County

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Picture of north central Osage County near Foraker and south of Shidler. Picture of north central Osage County near Foraker and south of Shidler.
Chief John Red Eagle Chief John Red Eagle

NewsOn6.com & Ashli Sims, News On 6

PAWHUSKSA, Oklahoma -- The Osage Nation announced its opposition Monday to the development of large-scale wind farms near Pawhuska. The tribe's chief counted up the economic costs and the environmental ones and he says wind energy just isn't worth it.

5/21/2011 Related Story: Proposed Wind Turbines Trigger Debate In Osage County

"The major thing that we're concerned about it is the production of our oil and gas. And how a wind farm might affect that," Chief John Red Eagle said.

Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle has come out against the proposed development of two large scale wind farms in the area near Foraker, just west of Pawhuska, and on the doorstep of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

The tribe owns the mineral rights for more than a million acres and it rakes in more than $10 million a year in revenue from oil and gas production. So they claim wind farms won't be a windfall for the tribe and could actually cut into their bottom-line.

"A lot of projects going to go forth in that area with gas systems and pipelines are beginning to develop in that area, right where they want to put the wind farms," he said.

The tribe is also concerned about what giant wind turbines could do to the landscape.

"Since it's such a rolling hills, plains area we wanted to protect the ecology of it," Chief Eagle said.

Both sides are trying to wave the "green" flag, wind energy producers claim to be cleaner than oil and gas production. But the tribe say those tall towers and giant blades could threaten the 300 species of birds found in the nearby Tallgrass prairie reserve.

The Nature Conservancy, which runs the preserve, agree the wind towers could scare away species like the Greater Prairie Chicken.

"The bigger concern is kind of the fragmentation effect that it brings to the landscape, especially for some of our native wildlife species, like our grassland birds," Bob Hamilton said.

Tribal leaders say the two wind farms are still in development and they haven't asked for permits yet from the county. They believe if the developers try to move forward without the tribe's permission they could legally challenge the development.

Statement by Osage Nation Principal Chief John D. Red Eagle:

Following careful research, consideration and discussion, I have concluded that it is not in the best interest of the Osage Nation to support the proposed large wind farm developments in Osage County. Although the Nation is not opposed to alternative energy development, large wind farms are not conducive to the Nation's overall economic initiatives and environment. Therefore, I believe taking this position is necessary for the greater good of the interests of our tribal citizens and the Osage Reservation area.

In recent months, wind energy companies have targeted Osage County as a prime area for development. While their consideration is flattering, there are valid reasons for siding with the opposition, and my office has found that opposition to be significant.

Primary in this opposition is the Osage Minerals Council. The Council, charged by the Osage people to administer and develop the Osage Mineral Estate in accordance with federal law, has provided my office with a letter of opposition to the development of industrial wind farms that could adversely impact minerals development. The areas being initially considered by the first two wind development companies cover approximately 30,000 acres and are located in a prime area for future oil and gas recovery.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the proposed projects will have an adverse impact upon the overall ecosystem of the Tallgrass Prairie, a true national treasure. The last remnants of the Tallgrass Prairie run from Osage County northward, into northern Kansas and I believe that the Osage Nation must join others in its protection, restoration, and properly make use of the limited opportunities the prairie provides everyone, including its wildlife.

Other concerns have been expressed about damaging areas that hold considerable historical and cultural value for the Osage people. Also, we have heard opposition from neighboring landowners, from supporters of local tourism efforts such as the Osage Nation Heritage Trail Byway, and from our neighboring community officials.

During our many conversations, including those with the wind developers themselves, we have discovered that no major purchasers of energy created by the proposed developments exist and that any creation of new and permanent jobs would be very limited.

My decision has not been made lightly. Representatives of my office have visited with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin's office, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Osage County Commissioners, and a land owner who hopes to lease his property to the developers. Our governor is encouraging wind development in Oklahoma, particularly in the western part of the state. Our County Commissioners need revenue enhancement to effectively serve the citizens, just as the land owners see a financial opportunity for themselves. However, I believe there are other financial opportunities that can be explored and alternatives found for the land owners as well, such as conservation easements.

It is my hope that everyone involved in supporting the development of large, industrial wind farms in Osage County will understand and respect the position of the Osage Nation.

My administration has worked hard to reestablish its friendships with other governments, with business leaders, with our neighboring ranchers and others. The Osage Nation values those relationships and we want to continue to develop them for the future benefit of all our citizens.

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