Legal

Ruling may pave way for additional wind farms in Osage County

A November surprise from an Oklahoma court may open the door to additional wind farm development within Osage County. 

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected appeals from the Osage Nation and the Osage County Board of Adjustments, thus allowing work to continue on Mustang Run wind farm. The Tradewind Energy project sits on 15,000 acres held by the Drummond family west of Pawhuska.

In its 25-page decision, eight of the nine Oklahoma Supreme Court justices ruled that the Osage County Board of Adjustments does not have the power to deny a permit if an applicant has met all of the necessary requirements.

Citing a desire to protect the local landscape, the board denied Tradewind Energy a conditional permit related to the Mustang Run project in May 2014, but Ottawa County District Court Judge Robert Haney overturned that decision, claiming the board’s arguments were speculative.

In its ruling siding with Haney, the Oklahoma Supreme Court chided the board for not providing sufficient evidence that their actions were consistent and in the best interest of area residents.

“Zoning laws, including both the granting and denial of special use permits, may not be imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner,” Vice-chief Justice Doug Combs wrote for the majority. “Property rights and the use of property are fundamental rights on which this country was established and it is a board of adjustment’s duty to determine the reasonableness of a property owner’s request based upon the evidence before the board.”

The eight justices also denied the Osage Nation’s position that the Osage County Zoning Board does not have the authority to issue conditional use permits, as well as the tribe’s claim that the Osage County District Court does not have the authority to review decisions made by the board of adjustment. 

The ninth judge, Chief Justice John Reif, lives in Skiatook and did not participate in the decision.

Officials with the Osage Nation could not be reached for comment on the ruling on deadline.

Fairfax

The ruling comes as the county braces for the potential for even more wind farms. Amshore US Wind LLC has obtained leases for almost 50,000 acres south of U.S. Highway 60 near Fairfax.

According to a legal notice published Oct. 26 in the Hominy News-Progress, the Corpus Christi, Texas-based company is conducting feasibility studies on the area. The company has also applied for a permit to build a one-mile service road to three towers that have been used to collect data.

A subsidiary of the oil and gas firm American Shoreline, the company first announced its interest in Osage County almost two years ago and already leases more than 30,000 acres in neighboring Kay County.    

Jeff Neves, Amshore’s head of development, did not return emails and phone calls seeking comment by deadline. The company is hosting a community meeting about its plans for the area at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Woodland High School gym in Fairfax    

Meanwhile, the Osage Minerals Council is still preparing to go to court over yet another wind farm in the county. A panel of judges with the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver will hear arguments on Nov. 16 over whether to overturn a September 2015 ruling from the Northern District of Oklahoma in which U.S. District Judge James Payne held that the 84-turbine Osage Wind near Burbank and its parent companies, Enel Green Power North America and Enel Kansas, do not need a mining permit to dig pits for wind turbine foundations.