ELM SPRINGS – Residents of this small town west of Springdale were skeptical and occasionally outright hostile toward a nearby proposed wind farm during a packed town hall meeting Tuesday.
About 150 people crammed into City Hall during the hours-long meeting, which Mayor Harold Douthit held for a question-and-answer session between residents and Dragonfly Industries International. The company hopes to build dozens of 100-foot turbines on rural land just west of Elm Springs in the next year or two.
Local opposition, based mostly on safety and property value concerns, has intensified since Dragonfly representatives approached Elm Springs officials about annexing the land in December.
Dragonfly officials attempted to calm opposition by arguing they’re Arkansas natives who want to help the area and will use a turbine system that’s safer, quieter and more efficient than conventional turbines. The company plans to use an uncommon shrouded or ducted turbine resembling a jet engine and is much smaller than the turbines spinning above much of the country’s midsection.
“It’s been tested, it’s been proven, and we know exactly what it’s going to do and how it’s going to perform,” said Phillip Ridings, the system’s designer. He added the system would solve the noise, annoyance and danger of the typical three-bladed design. “This is the silver bullet for wind energy, and we want you to be part of it and make history here in Elm Springs.”
CEO Jody Davis told the crowd the turbines would be built a 1,000 feet from property lines, a change from earlier plans, in an attempt to assuage some neighbors’ concerns.
“We’re trying to give a little,” Davis said, adding some people would oppose the project no matter what changes are made. “Our truest desire is to be a good neighbor.”
Many residents dismissed the sentiment, sometimes loudly heckling the Dragonfly officials as the room’s temperature rose.
“We don’t want to be guinea pigs – we don’t want to be the testing ground for new technology,” said Jonathon Hamby, who lives just outside the Dragonfly property and has rallied the opposition in recent weeks. Hamby and others have said they don’t oppose renewable energy but believe the system’s noise, lighting and height would be unsafe and detrimental to the area.
Hamby said he appreciated the 1,000-foot setback and Ridings’ acknowledgment of other turbines’ problems. He then asked when such problems were discovered. “After they built them,” Hamby answered to applause from the crowd.
Davis said several engineering groups analyzed the design with the same tests used for passenger plane designs. In response to questions from the group, he said the project would bring 25 to 30 permanent jobs on the wind farm and would go forward regardless of whether Elm Springs annexed the area.
Resident Diana Watkins asked whether any public money or tax credits would go to the project; Davis said no, as he did earlier this year. The federal production tax credit for wind farms expired last year.
Watkins echoed several other opponents when she replied: “You look me in the eye, you seem honest, but I don’t believe you.”
Not everyone in the room was opposed to the project; the mayor has expressed his support previously and several times reminded residents the meeting was for questions and answers, not a debate. Others in the crowd called out their support for Houthit and Dragonfly once or twice, but none had approached the room’s microphone two hours in.
The project would be reviewed by city or county planners and other officials before commencing.
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