Editor: On Jan. 18, Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors will vote whether to rezone 105 acres of fields and forests along the Goose Creek, just upstream from our public water intake, to allow a 750,000-square-foot data center. Tax revenue, proximity to other industrial properties and the “environmental sensitivity” of the developer have all been cited as reasons for approval, despite county planning staff’s recommendation for denial of the rezoning.
The data center developer presents a green image, largely through the claim that air, rather than Goose Creek water, will be used to cool the data center. But industry publications are full of articles predicting a switch from air cooling to liquid cooling, as data centers seek to go green: air cooling is significantly less energy efficient, increasing data centers’ carbon emissions.
Plenty of environmental downsides plague this proposal:
- The site contains over 40 acres of forested watershed habitat that slopes toward Goose Creek, functioning like a giant sponge as it soaks up and filters rain water and air pollution, providing resiliency through drought and floods. If the data center is approved, most of the forest will be bulldozed and replaced with 17 acres of rooftop alone, altering thenatural stream flow and lowering water quality.
- Among the forests and fields to be destroyed lies a globally rare ecological community of mafic barrens, which have dismissively been referred to as “fuzzy rocks” or “moss.”
- The site plan reveals a lack of sustainable landscaping choices.
- Diesel would be stored in above ground storage tanks. Data centers that use diesel as a backup fuel typically must periodically burn off unused reserves to comply with expiration dates.
- The watershed has already been degraded by the Greenway, power plant, quarry, and a previous rezoning for a data center. In this context, approval of a data center at this location would compound the degradation.
While the tax revenue would help pay for our fast-growing school system, our children also need ecosystem protections and access to clean water, open spaces and wild places; now, and into the future. Our current comprehensive plan addresses this need by prescribing a watershed-based and countywide approach to land use planning, not a parcel-by-parcel approach. Approval of the data center rezoning would be inconsistent with the policies of our comprehensive plan, paving the way for Loudoun’s watershed lands to be eroded, parcel by parcel. Four of our Supervisors acknowledge the potential consequences and advocate for denial of the rezoning. On Jan. 18, may the others adhere to our vision and values, and follow suit.
Cheri Conca, Conservation Advocacy Chair
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy