The owner of the proposed site west of Springdale for Arkansas’ first wind farm has withdrawn a request to rezone the land for the project.
Elite Energy, the company that bought more than 300 acres in Elm Springs earlier this year, offered no reason for the change in the withdrawal notice sent Monday to the Planning Commission. Company representative Cody Fell couldn’t be reached by phone Tuesday for comment.
The commission approved the industrial rezoning last month, sending it along to the City Council, which in turn tabled the rezoning until the council’s meeting this coming Monday. The withdrawal takes the rezoning question off the agenda, but the developers and opponents plan to discuss residents’ questions about the project at the meeting, representatives of both sides said Tuesday.
Texas-based Dragonfly Industries International has been working the past year to build a wind farm on the land, which became part of Elm Springs after a City Council vote in October. A petition drive successfully put the annexation up for a public vote March 1.
Jody Davis, Dragonfly CEO, said he and Elite Energy would discuss what comes next after the holidays.
“The fact is the project got way ahead of itself, and there is still lots of work to be done,” Davis wrote in an email Tuesday. “There has been lots of pressure put on Dragonfly when we are simply a technology company still working through research and development.”
“You have to remember that all the city and the mayor have tried to do is place themselves in a position for an opportunity,” Davis wrote. “There is so much more work that has to be done that goes way beyond the decision of annexation or rezoning.”
Davis and other Dragonfly officials have said they plan to use a unique turbine design with a cylindrical shell, making the overall system look like a jet engine. The shrouded turbine design would be more efficient, quieter and safer for wildlife, they have said.
The region’s main power providers earlier this month said the developers haven’t applied to connect the project to the region’s power grid.
The wind power industry has been skeptical of other shrouded designs around the country, with experts saying the system is comparable at best to the standard three-bladed fan.
Neighbors of the Elm Springs site have criticized the design as untested and unproven and have fought the project almost since the beginning. A town hall meeting with the developers early this year didn’t dissuade neighbors’ fears of lower property values and other harm.
“We’re optimistic, and we feel like we’re getting small wins here and there,” neighbor and project opponent Jonathon Hamby said Tuesday. “But until the situation is completely settled, we feel like we still have to continue to voice our concerns and our opposition to the project.”
The opposition has intensified in recent weeks because of Davis and Fell’s past crimes involving money. Davis in 2009 pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering after embezzling about $785,000 from three Oklahoma organizations, according to federal court documents. Davis and Fell also violated the Arkansas Hot Check Law – Davis in 1999, Fell in 2004.
Those past convictions confirmed Hamby’s suspicions that the whole project was a “sham,” he said. Fell never responded to requests for comment, but Davis said he was a changed man who grew past those mistakes.
“It is really sad that the press and the community wish to put more emphasis on tearing a person down who has truly changed their life and worked hard to build a life and future for their family that is structured around Godly relationships,” Davis wrote Tuesday. “We are still excited about the future and will keep you posted on next steps.”
Hamby said he also believed the project could go on, given the developers’ plan to come to the next City Council meeting.
“So we’ll be there, too,” he said.
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