Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Speaking before the Fairfax County Planning Commission last week, opponents of the gigantic data center proposed for construction near Chantilly’s Pleasant Valley community attacked the project from every angle. They spoke about the dangers it poses to the environment, its size and the noise and traffic it’ll bring.
And it wasn’t just the residents talking. There was a local land-use committee leader, an American University professor and a representative of the Sierra Club. A resolution was read, and 494 letters were delivered. Starting things off was Cynthia Shang, president of the community group, Save Pleasant Valley.
“Penzance wants to reap millions in profits from the data center boom,” she said. “And this one is so large that it needs 27 generators, a new electric substation and miles of electrical transmission lines for it to even function. Pleasant Valley rises 60-319 feet above the applicant’s property, so not only will the rooftop fans be heard, but the building will be visible from the ground, and even more so from second-story rooms, especially in the winter when trees are bare.”
“The height is completely out of character with the nearby car dealerships, and this application opens the door for more data centers built in areas not meant for them,” she continued. “Where does it stop?” Noting that in July Supervisor Kathy Smith (D-Sully) said the data center would yield nearly $6 million/year in tax revenue for the county because of its size, Shang said, “Smith is dismissing the negative aspects and, in essence, putting profits before people.”
To access the site, she added, “Hundreds of noisy, air-polluting, diesel-carrying semi-trucks a day will have to travel a loop [in Lafayette Business Park] through doctors’ offices, daycare centers and an on-street bike lane. They’ll increase the chance of accidents and come within 220-300 yards of Pleasant Valley Homes. Deny this application.”
Matt Maisal said Penzance “has refused to provide all the information” about the data center, and what it has offered is “incomplete, inaccurate and deceptive.” And he, too, said, “The only thing that’ll obstruct our view of it are the one or two trees in our yards.”
Next, Kate Maisal said, “The data center is expected to store 135,000 gallons of flammable diesel fuel and 13,500 gallons of diesel exhaust fluid onsite. Diesel exhaust fluid is corrosive and can damage plant life and the environment and is toxic to aquatic life, with long-lasting effects. But accidents happen, some by natural disasters.
“According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, there have been 69 significant incidents from regulated, above-ground, fuel-storage tanks since 2018. So the threat to our environment and drinking water is real. Other data centers in the U.S. and the world are using alternatives to diesel fuel, so why aren’t we insisting the applicant do the same – especially given the location adjacent to such an environmentally sensitive area?”
Nathan Brierly said Penzance’s noise study failed to take into account the constant hum that’ll emanate from this facility’s air-conditioning units. “It’s an annoying, disruptive and intrusive, low-tonal noise that humans can’t filter out,” he explained. “It’s like a mosquito buzzing at your ear, 24/7, and there’s no escaping it.”
Citing studies on low-frequency noise, he said it causes agitation, cognitive alterations, sleep disorders, heart problems and high blood pressure. And, said Brierly, “People should have a right to a better quality of life.”
Wendy Meeusen said decades of research show that noise pollution affects animals and plants at 40 decibels, “and this center will far exceed that. Noise directly interferes with communication within a species, making mating calls or alerts to danger. Noise can also distract an animal from the presence of a predator or a food source.”
Dave Meeusen said the semi-trucks driving daily through the business park will be 70-80 feet long, 10 feet wide. “The lanes are 11 feet wide, with bike lanes and parking, and trucks will have trouble navigating the turns there,” he said. “Ten years from now, the data stored in this 110-foot building may well be stored in something as small as my car trunk – and we’ll be stuck with an obsolete monolith.”
Scott Gorvett handed the commissioners 494 letters of opposition from Pleasant Valley residents, “representing $292 million in tax revenue to the county. Our home values will be lost because of the data center, and having the taxpayers bear the cost for the substation is wrong. We should be able to live in an environment free from a data center’s sound. We will see it, hear it and feel it every day, and it jeopardizes our quality of life.”
“The amount of energy needed to run a data center is staggering,” said Aaron Gagnon. “And we don’t want pollution from the diesel generators or trucks. Please protect our health and the environment.”
Saying Pleasant Valley home values would plummet if the data center’s approved, Realtor Kathy O’Neal said, “No one wants to live where there’s a 110-foot data center and constant truck traffic near their house. People trust their county officials to look out for them, so please deny this application. We don’t want to be a tainted community.”
Next, Fran O’Neal asked, “Where’s the fairness, justice and humanity?” He said data centers should be located “where they don’t diminish adjacent communities. As citizens, we’ll hold our planning commissioners and supervisors responsible for the results of their decisions.
“Economic growth can’t be at the expense of the residents. Pleasant Valley homeowners paid their mortgage payments in hopes of someday doing better financially. This proposal drops a bomb on them. Don’t wrap Pleasant Valley in all these negative consequences and call it progress.”
Keith Elliott told the commissioners, “Deep in your hearts, think about it and ask yourselves, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ And do you want to set a precedent of allowing data centers next to residential communities?”
The Sierra Club’s Ann Bennett said the application doesn’t incorporate adequate sustainability and clean energy measures. “One data center can equal the power consumption of 50,000 homes, and they increase our reliance on fossil fuels,” she said. “We’re running out of energy because of this industry.
“Water usage is also a huge issue, and AI increases the need for it. So we’d like water-impact studies done before approvals. They should recycle and reclaim their used water, and residents’ drinking water should be a priority before data center water usage.”
Leslie Kent said the center’s generators and air handlers will heat and change the environment and fragile estuary. And Braxton Boren, an American University professor who works in acoustics, said Penzance “has refused to provide low-frequency information.” He said this type of sound has long wavelengths, is not absorbed by air molecules like high-frequency sound, and travels long distances.
Boren also said trees don’t block these waves, so a data center’s 24/7 hum is “stressful and annoying, reduces cognitive ability during work or school, disrupts sleep and harms wildlife ecology.” And although Penzance says the sound will be 40 decibels at the community’s property line, Boren said low-frequency sound can’t be measured in decibels and doing so “underestimates its power. And this strong hum could “harm the quality of life of Pleasant Valley residents in many ways.”
Representing the joint Sully District Council/West Fairfax County Citizens Assn. Land-Use Committee – which heard two presentations by Pritchard – Jeff Parnes presented the committee’s resolution against the center. It included a long list of objections echoing those of the speakers.
It also decried the costs local consumers will pay for the electric infrastructure upgrades necessary to support the center, plus all the environmental impacts resulting from the new electric substation and transmission lines that’ll serve it. The committee then recommended the application’s denial “in the strongest possible terms.”