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EDITORIAL: Supervisors should reject data center along Goose Creek

Finding true north is essential for accurate navigation.

Hence the metaphor. In life’s journey we are often uncertain where we stand, where we are going and what is the right path. Knowing true north enables us to follow the right path.

County officials seem lost in their consideration of a massive data center project called True North Data that re-purposes 106 acres of nature on the west side of Goose Creek.

Misdirection comes from a Dallas-based box builder, its hired-gun land-use attorney and the county’s economic development department. They lead a perverse expedition to take “progress” to a place  it doesn’t belong -- a “transition zone” intended to mitigate development in an area where natural assets are cherished.

The True North Data project takes Loudoun into the woods. Tax revenue from the data center -- a 750,000 square-foot warehouse filled with thousands of computer servers -- -- could amount to as much as $22 million a year. That stirs the pulse of supervisors who covet tax revenue above all things.

“... let’s make it very clear that a no vote says no to the tax revenue,” says Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), confirming Loudoun’s  current priorities.

But Supervisor Gerry Higgins (R-Catoctin) cites the shallowness of his colleague’s position. “If we are shortsighted enough to pass this, we have the capacity to do even dumber things,” he admits.

Higgins position is echoed by environmental groups and hundreds of county residents who also oppose the data center -- citizens all but dismissed by a majority of the board.

It’s not as if the county needs a new data center along Goose Creek to fulfill its legacy of growth. With clients such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and many government agencies, Loudoun’s 75 data centers keep tens of thousands of computer servers humming in more than 10 million square feet of warehouse space, mainly around Ashburn. The county brags that an estimated 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic flows through Loudoun. Additionally, the county has identified 43 parcels for future data center use, most in the Route 606 development corridor.

Yet, county officials are strangely captivated by a project that principally benefits outside interests over those from people who live here. In what sounds like a threat, the applicants warn the county’s insecure officials that technology companies will go elsewhere if their project is denied. In what looks like a bribe, they offer $50,000 in scholarships.

While we’re enthusiastic supporters of Loudoun’s place in the knowledge economy, we worry in this case about the county losing its sense of place. Loudoun’s character shouldn’t be for sale at any price.

True north can’t be found extracting tax revenue from data centers in transition zones.

On Jan. 18, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to make a consequential decision about the county’s character. Those supervisors who currently favor the spread of data centers to Goose Creek  -- Letourneau,  Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), Koran Saines (D-Sterling) and Ron Meyer (Broad Run) -- should come to their senses. They should follow a path to progress that leads respectfully to the county’s future, not one that takes them into the woods.

True North is a character test of vision and leadership. Supervisors should abide the wishes of Loudouners and reject a misguided project that overtakes our values and our land.


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