Virginia History, Data Center Industry Bump Heads ... and Amazon's the Culprit

Although advocates for enhancing Northern Virginia’s reputation as one of the world's largest data center hubs welcome the idea of VAData opening a facility there on 38 acres, the Amazon subsidiary isn’t making many friends among local residents or history buffs, according to a report by the Washington Post.

The proposed two warehouse-size data center buildings require installation of 100-foot-high towers equipped with noisy 230,000-volt power lines that would pass through a Prince William County neighborhood closely tied to the Civil War legacy.

For a number of elderly homeowners and descendants of ancestors that began their long march into the middle class near the town of Haymark it means being forced to move from their long-time homes.

While this is the first data center development project to come into conflict with preserving history, the fast-growing data center industry in Northern Virginia—which adds nearly $6 billion a year to local and state coffers—has the villagers up in arms,  according to Dominion Virginia Power.

That’s especially true for facilities that tax regional energy supplies and require additional power lines and cooling systems capable of keeping the lights on in 5,000 homes, according to the Post. (The paper happens to belong to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.)

Last year, 70 data centers-strong Loudoun County received several complaints about noise and drove county supervisors to require input from residents before facilities are approved. Additionally, data center developers must create noise buffers and vary architectural styles. Similar rules were adopted for nearby Fairfax County.

The Board of Supervisors may have created a special zoning category for data centers to protect areas where new power lines would negatively affect surrounding homes, historical resources, and local businesses in 2015. However, no rules were in place governing data center construction in the Prince William neighborhood during the prior year, when VAData purchased the land for $8.6 million and launched the project.

Two solutions were proposed as compromise: to build the power lines along a freight railroad line or along Interstate 66 that would either lie above ground, be buried, or a combination of the two.

The SCC rejected the $167 million Interstate 66 option as too expensive and too close to homes along Carver Road but favored the less invasive $55 million railroad route. In an effort to make peace, the SCC even ordered Dominion to seek Prince William County’s permission to use the land so it could build the power lines along the railroad route.

However, the Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected that request in June.

Homeowners now say their next step is to lobby the state to reconsider the railroad route under the pretenses that high-voltage lines along Carver Road would pass dangerously close to homes and schools.

Will history or modern technology prevail? Stay tuned.

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