EDITORIAL

All Prince William Taxpayers Will Pay for Data Centers Built Near Schools

County taxpayers will have to pay for bad planning decisions

Posted

There is a misconception that data centers abutting residential areas will create problems only for a small number of people while providing a great benefit to the rest of the county.

This could not be further from the truth.

If data centers near schools and communities are as loud, disruptive, and monotonous as expert evidence suggests, then without proper mitigations, everyone will pay for poor planning on behalf of the county. 

This problem is not limited to one or two neighborhoods. Since the county is planning to build over one hundred data center buildings in Gainesville, Bristow, and Manassas, they will be heard from thousands of homes and dozens of schools. The Linton Hall area will be hurt the worst, but data noise will also be heard near Unity Reed in Manassas and Tyler Elementary School in Gainesville.

The sound is a massive problem because it will be loud and cause medical problems such as anxiety, depression, insomnia and memory loss. The sounds will interrupt students as they work. They will keep people up at night (when the sound will be the loudest.) Only those who commute outside Prince William County will have any escape. For children, the noise will be constant.

For those in eastern Prince William, maybe it still sounds like a good deal. You have been promised millions of dollars for schools and roads. That is millions to be used to hire teachers,  fix aging infrastructure, reduce class sizes, and lower taxes. Why should you ask your representatives to vote against your own interests?

Because whatever affects one side of the county, will ultimately be felt on the other side of the county. These noise issues will have to be fixed, and county revenue is one large pot of money.

Moreover, if the data center drives out the folks on the western end of the county, or lowers the value of their homes, the east will feel the tax burden.

According to NASA scientist Dr. John Lyver, data center noise would reach 85 decibels at Piney Branch and Chris Yung elementary schools due to clustered data centers sitting just 100 feet from their campuses. That is the equivalent of what one would hear standing next to a blender. Already our supervisors approved such a project behind the community Amberleigh Sation.

But can our students learn like this? Of course not. Something would have to be done. And who is going to pay for it? The taxpayers. Who else?

The data center will not fix the problem we have allowed to happen. If we permit them to build data centers wherever they want and as loud as they want, they win and we lose. They will have all the power and control over the county. 

Then, the county will have no choice but to pay. By some estimates, it could cost approximately $10 million per school to build sound barrier walls. Hopefully, alternatives could be found, but nonetheless, sound mitigation will be an expensive proposition for the county. It could involve walls, new landscaping, and new sound-proof window. 

These costs will be passed on to the taxpayers, even as the county gave tax breaks to billion-dollar tech giants. And the county will likely have to assume the cost of prevention during construction before they even receive significant tax revenue from the data centers. 

In fact, by some estimates, the data centers won't pay off for 25 years. As my 7-year-old daughter said, "I will be 32 by then!" 

Is this really for our children? And will these data centers be obsolete by then? It is possible they could be obsolete in just a few years. But even if data centers are beneficial to the county overall, shouldn't they still be placed in the right place? 

Suddenly data center tax money does not seem like a windfall, does it? Especially when you consider all the schools that will experience noise in excess of the noise ordinance. Imagine having to build sound barrier walls at approximately ten schools, plus, perhaps neighborhoods, and businesses! (Even if you think the county should not pay for this infrastructure, I would bet some lawyers would argue otherwise.) 

Forests can make excellent sound mitigators, but 100 feet of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves, will not protect against the sound of 11 data centers. In many cases, hundreds of feet of forest already exist on these properties. Natural buffers could be the first line of defense to block data center noise.

And yet the county is allowing data center applicants to chop them down to make room for the maximum number of data buildings. Basically, the data center developers can do whatever they want to the detriment of the residents. How is this good land management?

Not only was no official sound study conducted, but the county and its supervisors have tried to keep the whole matter of data centers hush-hush. They began passing the rezonings without holding town halls. Only the immediate residents were notified. Even then, those residents say they were not given complete information but were sold on the idea of data centers being good neighbors.

This is horrible, horrible planning, and it will affect everyone.

The county will be forced to spend millions mitigating its colossal mistake. Home values will fall, schools will lose teachers, and people will move away. If the county does get any money, it all goes towards mitigating the problems it has created. The people who believe they will be ‘unaffected’ will be the ones to pay.

And so far, I have only discussed sound. Water quality in the county is another problem the county will have to contend with for the poor planning decisions it’s made. The supervisors were warned by Fairfax Water to conduct a water study before building data centers. They decided to go ahead anyway, putting the cart before the horse. Are they afraid of what they’d find?

Additionally, residents will have to assume massive electric bills on behalf of the data centers. Virginia law does not allow business entities to assume all the cost, it would be shared by all of us, even as they are using 90% of the power.

Yet the supervisors are choosing to tax data centers at only ¼ what they pay in Loudon. If the county were to tax them at a near equal rate, we would not need to build data centers next to homes and schools in the first place.

We need to act now to prevent future disasters. We can save this county and gain money from data centers, but only if we are smart and deliberate.

We do not need to give the data centers everything they request. Supervisors need to protect the residents, students, employees, and taxpayers. Ask your supervisors to delay the approval of the Devlin Road Tech Park.

The county needs to conduct a formal noise study to determine if the plan is tenable, or if the opposition suspects, something that would make their neighborhoods unlivable, and their schools need to be shut down.

Next, we need to change the noise ordinance. Data centers know their cooling systems are exempt, and it only works to their advantage. This may be an uphill battle, but it is one worth fighting.

We need to tell our school board members that this is their fight too. How can this be a win for them when it would render schools uninhabitable without barriers and mitigations?

And we need to investigate the source of electrical power. Does Virginia have enough power for all the proposed data centers? Will the new projects require new high ‘power tower’ lines? Pageland residents allege the power towers caused fowls to be stillborn. Do we really want that near our residents?

So, dear readers, even if you do not have compassion for the people who will be affected by data centers, realize that all of us will pay for this epic mistake. Tell your supervisors to delay the vote on the Devlin Tech Park on Sept. 13, until it conducts an official sound study, and puts in place iron-clad mitigations that will protect residents from data centers. Do not let your supervisors give away more county control to tech giants! 

Tell your representatives to remand the Yondr data center behind Amberleigh Station to address the new sound information. If they do not, it will affect Piney Branch Elementary School, Gainesville Middle School, Gainesville High School and residents along Linton Hall Road. 

Yes, there are ways for the data centers can be quieted, but they won’t dig into their own pockets to pay for them unless we force them to, and we should! That is our prerogative as a jurisdiction. 

The people of Prince William County will not receive justice if we are quiet. The supervisors need to hear from the residents before we all hear the data center noise 24-7!

People on the eastern end of the county tell your supervisors not to support bad planning lest you are left cleaning up after their mistakes. You wouldn't want data centers in your backyard, but if you allow them to place them in ours, you pave the way for data centers to have their way all over the county. You'll be next! 

This is OUR COUNTY! Let's protect people, not corporate profits! 

*Correction, updated info about the Pageland Lane development. 

data centers, Bristow, Prince William County, vote no, Board of County Supervisors, cost

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  • nzcherkis

    WHY do we need to "develop" every square foot of the County? Trees provide valuable buffers between industrial sites and residential tracts. Trees also enhance the oxygen budget of the entire planet. While not "productive" in a tax-wise sense, there are other advantages to NOT having data center farms. One is a less-intensive strain on our power consumption. Dominion has had its wide-open legislation advantages and our present governor is on their side, but the only people that benefit are the stockholders. Voting out the pro-development board members worked in western Loudoun County. We need to do it in Prince William. STOP THE DATA CENTERS, STOP THE POWER TOWERS. Our tax base can handle the present day expenses. Don't make PWC the data center capital of the USA!

    Wednesday, September 28 Report this