Data Centers In The Wrong Place: It’s A Bad Deal

Nature Forward is disappointed to report that, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 2, after 14-hours of a public hearing, the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors passed the PW Digital Gateway comprehensive plan amendment in a 5-2 vote. This plan will remove over 2,100 acres from the Rural Crescent in order to develop data centers. As reported by The Washington Post, this passage triggered “…the county’s largest land-use change in decades in an area that has seen the rapid growth of residential developments and tech centers.”

On September 13, 2022, ANS submitted written comments in opposition to a plan in Prince William County to bisect the protected areas of Conway Robinson State Forest and Manassas Battlefield National Park and remove over 2,100 acres from the Rural Crescent in order to develop data centers.

The Planning Commission decision was shocking

On Thursday, September 15, 2022, after 5am in the morning after an entire night of public comment on this proposal, the Prince William County Planning Commission, recommended approval for PW Digital Gateway proposal.

Further complicating the situation, the version of the plan supported by the Planning Commission was not publicly viewable ahead – the changes were only published to the county website after the Commissioner’s meeting was completed. The amendments that were recommended contained drastic changes to the draft the public saw such as removal of wildlife corridors, eliminations of buffers, weakening of stormwater management requirements, and a walking-back of commitments to public open space.

The Digital Gateway is a bad deal

Even the original “Digital Gateway” proposal was inconsistent with the need to address the climate crisis and it put our region’s climate goals and health at risk. With the last-minute changes, our concerns have only grown. Its proximity to both a national park and state forest risks inflicting significant and negative impacts on those resources, it would damaging the region’s drinking water supply from the Occoquan Reservior and it would further accelerate carbon emissions in Prince William County (where they are already rising).

Countless Virginia partners, including local partners such as Sierra Club Great Falls Group, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Prince William Conservation Alliance, Potomac Riverkeeper Network, and Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, as well as state-level organizations such as Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, and Southern Environmental Law Center, and even the National Trust for Historic Preservation have opposed this proposal.

Read our comment letters

  • Sept 13, 2022: ANS letter of opposition to the Planning Commission
  • Sept 20, 2022: Joint comment letter of opposition to Virginia’s Senators and Virginia Representatives
  • Sept 20, 2022: Joint comment letter of opposition to Northern Virginia State and Local Elected Officials

What comes next?

While the Prince William Board of County Supervisors had been planning to discuss and make a decision on this proposal on October 12th, Chair Wheeler has since delayed the PW Digital Gateway vote and a new date as not yet been set. A public hearing for final approval could take place as early as November 1, 2022. Read more online

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