SPRINGDALE -- Elm Springs has annexed the 300 acres of land developers hope to use for Arkansas' first wind farm.
The City Council voted 4-2 to annex the land during its Oct. 19 meeting, with Dennis Doty and Jeannie Burks opposed, two aldermen and the mayor said Friday. The agricultural land now hitches onto the western edge of the small town west of Springdale.
Dragonfly Industries International has said it hopes to use the land as a proving ground for a shrouded wind turbine design resembling a jet engine, which the company has said is quieter, more efficient and safer for wildlife than the standard design. The company says the project would provide 80 megawatts of power to the area. Opponents of the project have disputed those claims and said the technology is unproven.
The annexation means the project must go through all of the steps to construction with Elm Springs' government: first to the town's Planning Commission to rezone the land for an industrial purpose, then to the council to approve the rezoning, then again to the Planning Commission for large-scale development approval.
Each step comes with public hearings, and the whole process could take months. The project also needs to meet state and federal regulations.
The vote is "just a first step of what is likely to be a very lengthy process," said Alderman Kevin Thornton of Ward 1, who voted for the annexation. "This is nowhere near a decision that can be made quickly."
A company named Elite Energy owns the land and started the annexation process earlier this year; if the project goes forward and meets all of its requirements, Dragonfly will take over its construction and management.
"So far everything's looking good," Dragonfly CEO Jody Davis said Friday.
The project has sparked intense opposition from neighbors of the land and others in town. More than 100 turned out at a town hall in the spring, most of them skeptical of the project or opposed altogether. Opponents believe the project's 150-foot turbine towers could cause health problems, lower property values and harm wildlife. Dragonfly officials said those concerns are based on the standard turbine and wouldn't come from their design.
"It's like they don't care," a group called "Stop the Elm Springs Wind Farm" posted on its Facebook page after the City Council vote. "What are citizens to do when they have lost their voice?"
Jonathon Hamby, who has helped rally the opposition, didn't return phone or email messages left Thursday and Friday requesting comment.
Hamby and other neighbors petitioned to stop the annexation in Washington County Circuit Court, but the lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice earlier this month at the petitioners' request. Their attorneys didn't return a message requesting comment Friday.
Neither of the two City Council members who voted against the annexation responded to requests for comment sent by email Thursday.
Alderman Steve Roberts of Ward 3 said he researched the opposition's fears and thought they were "groundless." The wind farm would come in with or without annexation, Roberts added, echoing Davis at previous meetings.
"The city has nothing to do but gain by going ahead and annexing the land," Roberts said. "I'm there for Elm Springs."
Thornton argued that the debate wasn't divisive and was instead a "productive conversation." Annexation is a routine concern, and Thornton said his vote for it was based on the land as it is -- fields and trees -- and not as it might be at some point.
"This wasn't about whether or not a wind farm could develop on the land," he said, adding that he hasn't taken a stance for or against the power project as a whole. "I am open to development in Elm Springs; we need it. But at the same time we have to give this the same scrutiny that we give anything else."
Metro on 11/02/2015