Wind farm developer sues project opponents for defamation

The CEO of the company hoping to build the state's first wind farm west of Springdale has sued two of the project's opponents for defamation.

The CEO of the company hoping to build the state's first wind farm west of Springdale has sued two of the project's opponents for defamation.

Jody Davis, head of Texas-based Dragonfly Industries International, claims several disparaging posts made by Jonathon and Vivian Hamby on the "Stop the Elm Springs Wind Farm" Facebook page aren't true and have damaged his and his company's reputation. Davis filed the lawsuit in Washington County Circuit Court and asks for a judge to order the married couple to remove the posts, compensate Davis for the damage done and pay punitive damages.

The lawsuit cites five examples of the posts, including one in November asking of Davis and another man involved in the project, "Do these look like 'experts' in wind energy to you, or do they look like career criminals who scam people out of their hard-earned money?" Davis claims the Hambys knew the statements were false or were published with reckless disregard of the truth.

That post referred to Davis's history of crimes involving money. Davis pleaded guilty in 2009 to embezzling about $785,000 from three organizations in Oklahoma and served 17 months in prison, according to federal court documents. He was also sentenced to probation in Arkansas for a hot-check violation in 1999.

The Hambys' attorney, Travis Story, dismissed the complaint in a statement as an attempt to intimidate the Hambys. The truth is "an absolute defense" in defamation cases, Story wrote.

"This is a pathetic and desperate move by Jody Davis," Jonathon Hamby said Friday evening. "His criminal history is what is causing him problems, not some Facebook post."

Davis didn't return an email or phone message requesting comment Friday evening. Last year he said he had paid for and had grown past his 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 in an email last month.

Davis and other Dragonfly representatives have said they plan to build dozens of turbines on a 300-acre site on the western edge of Elm Springs, a town of about 1,700 people. They have said they intend to use a unique turbine design that's quieter, safer for wildlife and more efficient than the standard design.

The Hambys live next to the land. They and other neighbors worried about the project's impact on their health and property value and said the turbine design was untested and unproven. After the City Council approved the land's annexation into Elm Springs last fall, the Hambys were involved with the successful petition drive to put the annexation up for a public vote. The vote's scheduled for March 1.

Elite Energy, a related company that owns the site, tried to get the land rezoned from residential-agricultural use for the project but dropped the request in December. Hamby said he believed the project could still go forward, because residential-agricultural zoning allows utility facilities under city code.

At the Planning Commission's meeting Monday, chairman Matt Casey said he agreed the 150-foot turbines could be built on the land as zoned, according to a recording of the meeting. The project would still need building permits and perhaps other permitting before going forward, Casey said. The commission didn't take any formal action.

Jonathon Hamby attended the meeting and said neighbors' concerns must be addressed.

"It seems like you're trying to find a way around this," he told the commission.

Mayor Harold Douthit said Hamby and others had several public opportunities to speak their minds. Hamby and Douthit argued for a moment before Casey ended public comment and adjourned the meeting.

At a Glance

Proposed Wind Farm Site

• Location: West of Kenneth Price Road near the intersection with Tally Gate Road, about half a mile south of the Benton/Washington county border

• Size: About 300 acres

• Owner: Elite Energy, registered in Fayetteville

• Price: Sold by Chambers Bank in February 2015 for $2.3 million

Source: Staff report


JAN 16 2016
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