Storm over Elm Springs wind farm plan quiets after request is pulled

Posted: December 22, 2015 at 1 a.m.

ELM SPRINGS -- The recent flurry of activity over a controversial proposed wind farm in this small town west of Springdale has calmed, at least for the moment.

Mayor Harold Douthit only briefly mentioned the proposal from Dragonfly Industries International and its partner Elite Energy during Monday night's City Council meeting, which until a week ago was intended to include a forum for residents to hear answers to their questions about the project. No one spoke on either company's behalf.

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To find more information on Elm Springs City Council and Planning Commission meetings or other town business, go to elmsprings.net.

Source: Staff report

Elite Energy on Dec. 14 withdrew its request to rezone about 300 acres of land for industrial use for the project, its first procedural speed bump. That postponed the question-and-answer session indefinitely. Douthit said Dragonfly has received residents' emailed questions and he still expects them to give answers, perhaps when the project comes before town officials again.

What is certain is the project isn't disappearing entirely. Dragonfly executives say they're putting the zoning push aside to focus on developing their turbine design; Elite Energy owns the land in question. The project's opponents, meanwhile, are looking toward the March 1 referendum on the project site's recent annexation. And at least one believes the project could go forward even without jumping through the rezoning hoop.

"They're not going away," Jonathon Hamby, an opponent who lives next to the land just outside city limits, said after Monday's meeting. The land's residential-agriculture zoning allows utility facilities, he pointed out.

Hamby and other opponents of the project have questioned its feasibility, its impact and the expertise of its developers. For much of this year, they focused on the 150-foot turbines, saying they could adversely affect property values and the people and wildlife in the area. They packed a town hall on the project last spring to voice such concerns and in recent weeks collected signatures for the March referendum.

The focus turned in recent weeks to the criminal histories of Dragonfly CEO Jody Davis and representative Cody Fell; Davis pleaded guilty to embezzlement in 2009, and both admitted to hot check violations in the past. Davis has said he paid for and grew past his mistakes, while Fell hasn't publicly commented.

Through it all the approval process continued apace, with annexation coming in October, followed by the Planning Commission's recommendation for rezoning last month. The City Council tabled the rezoning shortly afterward to give residents time to submit emailed questions for the second forum that was set for Monday.

Davis last week said the project "got way ahead of itself," and he and his colleagues were regrouping to focus on their turbine technology. Craig Cook, chief operating officer, fleshed out the point in a subsequent email statement.

"We still have a ways to go in the development process before we'll be needing to put hardware on the ground, so a decision on zoning is not urgent," Cook wrote. "With the current concerns of neighbors -- which, quite frankly, we didn't anticipate -- perhaps the zoning request was premature."

The company hasn't taken the first steps to connect to the regional power grid, area power providers have said.

To go forward without rezoning, the project would still need a large-scale development permit from the town's Planning Commission. The 150-foot turbines also far exceed the zoning's maximum height of 45 feet, according to the town's zoning ordinances.

The applicants would need to get a variance to allow such tall structures, which would also come from the Planning Commission after the applicants show the height rules "result in unnecessary hardship" or exceeding the height "will not adversely affect adjoining or neighboring property owners," according to the ordinances.

Douthit last week said the opponents are a "vocal minority," adding, "The election will prove that out."

Hamby, who can't vote in the referendum, said Monday most people he has talked to still oppose the project.

"We're optimistic, definitely," he said.

NW News on 12/22/2015