Potential wind farm's neighbors organize against it, worry over impact

ELM SPRINGS -- Opponents to a proposed wind farm west of Springdale said last week they're concerned the project could be unsafe and harmful to everyone who lives around it, despite assurances from the developers their system's unusual design is quieter and safer than typical turbines.

Dragonfly Industries International and its affiliates have purchased about 300 acres of unincorporated land for an 80-megawatt field of turbines west of Tontitown and Elm Springs, according to letters received last week by neighbors of the property. The wind farm would be Arkansas' first. Company representatives have told Elm Springs they'd like the land to be annexed.

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• More information about Dragonfly Industries International and its plans can be found at diiturbines.com

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Source: Staff Report

Several neighbors said they have unanswered questions. They've begun meeting with Elm Springs and Washington County officials to get the project adjusted, if not blocked completely.

"It's just putting it in the middle of a neighborhood," said Meagan Steele, who has lived on the nearby Kenneth Price Road for 17 years and raised her children there. "None of us live out here to have an industrial anything outside our front yard or backyard."

Steele spoke Wednesday during a small gathering of opponents organized by Jonathon Hamby, who has rallied opposition and can see the Dragonfly property rise a few hundred feet beyond his backyard. A Facebook page named "Stop the Elm Springs Wind Farm" had more than 330 fans by Friday.

"We wanted to jump out ahead of this," Hamby said at his home on Tally Gate Road, looking over maps and wind energy reports arrayed on the deck's table.

"We're not against green energy whatsoever," he said, a refrain echoed by many of the others. "Our entire opposition is how close these are to homes."

Jody Davis, Dragonfly's CEO, wants to build dozens of 100-foot towers on the land, each holding a pair of turbines mounted on either side. Unlike the conventional three-bladed design, Dragonfly plans to use a ducted or shrouded turbine that looks like a jet engine to hold three sets of blades in a row.

Arkansas isn't known for its wind potential, but advocates of shrouded designs say they can be more efficient and squeeze power from calmer winds. The enclosure by a shell and other design details also make it quiet, safer for passing birds and less disruptive for neighbors, Davis has said.

"These are things that are game-changers," he said in an interview last month. "It'll prove itself in time."

Hamby's first concern was noise. He pointed to reports from around the world on the effects of turbine noise. Beyond mundane annoyance with whirring and whooshing, some people living near turbines have blamed low-frequency noise for health and sleep problems collectively dubbed "wind turbine syndrome."

Wind developers have disputed these charges, and neither side trusts the other, according to a 2012 report from the Acoustic Ecology Institute. The institute's report reviewed surveys and studies on the topic and found minor differences in health based on nearness to a wind farm, with sleep disruption and other problems affecting about one in 10 people within earshot.

"While we shouldn't discount the impact on these people, it appears that fears of widespread health impacts may be misplaced," the report said.

Hamby and the others raised other objections, such as lights at night, impact on birds and bats and on land values, with many saying they would never be able to sell their land with a wind farm behind it. The lifestyle and peace of rural living are also important, they said.

"The quiet! The quiet is unreal," said Lori Smith, who lives on the south side of the Dragonfly land.

The group has two main goals: Keep the land in the county and under the county planning board's jurisdiction, and get the turbines pushed back more from the property line if the project goes forward. The county board could take a more detached look than the city's, Hamby said. Matt Casey, chairman of the Elm Springs Planning Commission, didn't return an email and phone message at his office Thursday.

County planner Juliet Richey said she and her staff looked into wind turbines when other companies considered bringing them to the area in recent years. The considerations for a wind farm would be similar to those for any project, including compatibility with the area, noise, lighting and setbacks from property lines. Planners take neighbors' comments into account as well, she said.

In response to neighbors' concerns, Davis pointed again to the shrouded design, saying he stood by his statements about its improvements on the conventional shape.

"He (Hamby) thinks we are a standard three-blade system, with all the hazards that follow them," Davis wrote in an email. "He does not realize what we are bringing."

"We are discussing draw backs from property lines to help ease the stress from neighbors," Davis said, adding he believed neighbors' concerns would "diminish a little" after the project got rolling. "The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try to please people, you will still have those that will oppose."

The company's assurances for now haven't convinced the opponents, who said they haven't been given enough hard information and proof.

"We might not be so against it if we knew, if we really knew," Frieda Rogers, Hamby's next-door neighbor, said, emphasizing the last word. "We don't have answers for anything."

Dan Holtmeyer can be reached at nwadg.com and on Twitter @NWADanH.

NW News on 03/16/2015