Northern Virginia: Prince William Board of County Supervisors to vote on controversial data center development

Nov 01, 2022 | Posted by MadalineDunn

Today the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors is set to vote on a much-anticipated and controversial data center development, "the PW Digital Gateway", ​​which would introduce 26.7 million square feet of data center space​​ to 2,100 acres next to rural land of historical and cultural significance. 

Opponents of the development say that it poses environmental risks, and have highlighted that a major industrial development could also impact the reservoir, responsible for supplying drinking water to 800,000 residents of Northern Virginia. Meanwhile, Kyle Hart, mid-Atlantic program manager for the conservation association, said the Gateway is "possibly the greatest threat to a national park that the state of Virginia – and arguably this region – has ever seen." Hart explained that the Digital Gateway is "the equivalent of building 150 Walmart supercenters [or] four Pentagons." Adding: "It has major implications for regional water quality, for National Park visitors' experiences and for the health of Prince William County as a whole." 

Speaking on the area's cultural and historical significance, Christy Forman, the Manassas Battlefield Trust's chair of membership and outreach, said that the area's value "lies in more than dollar signs," adding: "…How will our children and grandchildren ponder the cries of dying men, the events that ended human bondage in our country, and the hopes our ancestors had for our future, over the hum of data centers and with the backdrop of industrial buildings?" 

Frank Washington, a descendant of the Thoroughfare and Carver Road settlements and Coalition to Save Historic Thoroughfare, Founder and Spokesman, expanded on this by arguing that the Black settlements along Pageland Lane, which share a common history with Thoroughfare and Carver Road, should be "elevated, not erased to feed the greed of a select few," referring to the significant profit local landowners will benefit from if the Gateway is approved. According to reports, the site contains at least one Civil War mass burial site, as well as the sacred burial grounds of formerly enslaved and Native American people. Washington said: "A select few who stand to gain millions if this project proceeds, and our board leaders who are seemingly playing into this … are labeling the people trying to preserve their environment, and our county's history and our natural resources, as racist."

Residents have also taken issue with how many data centers have already been developed in the area. The Prince William Times reported one resident saying: "Just drive into Haymarket, and there are data centers right on top of those houses. … That's why we're here… someone has to listen, so we're not overtaken. That's what we feel like is happening here."

Proponents argue that the development will bring tax revenue for schools and local government services; according to Prince William County Officials, the PW Digital Gateway, at full buildout, could generate as much as $400 million in annual tax revenue in approximately 20 years. 

If the Board votes to approve the development, the ball could start rolling on the development immediately.

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