Elm Springs residents to decide annexation issue on March 1
Elm Springs voters will decide next year whether the proposed site for a controversial wind farm will remain part of the small town in an election opponents hope will signal the project's downfall.
Opponents of the annexation of about 300 acres on the west side of town turned in enough signatures to bring the issue to a vote tentatively scheduled for March 1, Mayor Harold Douthit wrote in an email Thursday. Petitioners needed about 100 signatures of registered voters in the city for the referendum and turned in 180.
Douthit stressed the vote is strictly over whether the land will be part of the town of about 1,700 people. "It is not a vote for a wind farm or against a wind farm," he wrote.
If the annexation is reversed, the land -- and any projects built on it -- would fall under Washington County jurisdiction and permitting procedures instead of the city's. But Jonathon Hamby, who lives next to the land and has helped rally the project's opposition, said he hopes the vote puts a stop to the project once and for all.
"It's a joke that this is even still being discussed, quite honestly," he said Thursday. "This whole thing is just a complete sham."
The March 1 date would coincide with the Arkansas party primary for local, state and national offices. Jennifer Price, election coordinator, said Thursday the Election Commission plans to meet later this month and likely will approve the date. Holding the votes at the same time will save Elm Springs about $4,000, Price said, because the state pays for primary election costs.
The City Council voted to annex the land in October following a petition from Elite Energy, which bought the land from Chambers Bank early this year for $2.3 million. Executives at Dragonfly Industries International, a related company registered in Texas, said they hope to build an 80-megawatt wind farm using an improved wind turbine design.
The City Council is considering whether to rezone the land to allow industrial development, which is set to come up again at the Dec. 21 meeting. The referendum's approval comes on the heels of revelations Dragonfly's CEO and a spokesman both have histories of breaking laws involving money in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Dragonfly CEO Jody Davis didn't return phone and email messages requesting comment Thursday. He and other Dragonfly representatives have said their shrouded turbine, resembling a jet engine, would be quieter, safer and more efficient at generating electricity than standard models. Davis earlier this year also said the project would go on with or without annexation into Elm Springs.
Hamby lives just outside the city and couldn't give his signature or participate in the vote, but he and others have pushed for months against the project. Their early concerns related mostly to the possible effects a cluster of 150-foot turbine towers could have on property value and the neighboring people and wildlife.
The focus shifted in recent weeks to Davis and Cody Fell, who has represented the company at several Elm Springs meetings.
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. A judge in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Oklahoma sentenced him to 17 months in prison and $1.2 million in restitution. Davis also pleaded guilty to felony violation of the Arkansas Hot Check Law in 2009.
In a statement last month, Davis said he paid a "high price" for his mistakes and moved past them. He hoped his story could help "others who have been through trials in their life," he wrote.
Fell, meanwhile, has been ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreclosures and other debts in Oklahoma and also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violation of the hot check law in 2004, according to district court documents in Tulsa County, Okla., and elsewhere. Fell didn't return messages requesting comment.
Hamby said the information confirmed his suspicions about a company that hasn't built other wind farms and plans to use untested technology.
"Our belief is these guys are going to disappear off the face of the earth, honestly," Hamby said. "This wind farm was never going to happen -- it's never going to happen."
Wind farm timeline
• December 2014: Representatives of Dragonfly Industries International speak to the Elm Springs Planning Commission and City Council about the idea of building a wind farm near the town.
• March 31, 2015: Dragonfly holds a town hall on the project to provide information and answer residents’ questions; many say they’re against the proposal because of potential harm to property value and health.
• June 19: Washington County approves the petition from Elite Energy, which owns the 300-acre site, to deannex from the county.
• Oct. 19: Elm Springs City Council votes to annex the land.
• Nov. 9: Elm Springs Planning Commission recommends rezoning the land to industrial for the project, sending the proposal to the City Council.
• Nov. 16: The City Council tables the oning proposal to allow more questions and discussion.
Source: Staff report