Proposed data centers raise noise concerns in Virginia

Photo credit: Manuel Geissinger

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

Amazon wants to build a huge data center in Warrenton Town, Virginia, but apparently to do so Amazon has to meet noise conditions laid down by the town’s Council. The Town of Warrenton’s zoning ordinance includes regulations pertaining to noise. The public hearing on whether to give Amazon a special permit to build this huge data center will take place on February 14. If Amazon gets the right to build, it will be obligated to meet the regulations pertaining to noise. And if Amazon does not meet its obligations, it would have to cease operations until it does.

Peter Cary, writing for Fauquier Times, interviews attorneys familiar with cases where companies are given permission to build facilities with certain conditions and then if these conditions are not met, the difficulties that follow trying to close down operations. A primary concern is the cost and time involved in going to court, as the process  can take a long time. Meanwhile, the companies continue to operate.

The question Cary raises in his article is this: Would Amazon fight a shutdown? If yes, this small town would be up against a giant company. Or would Amazon “be a good corporate citizen” and work with the town to address the noise violation?

Data centers are also being planned for other cities. In a post by Dr. John Lynch, who writes about the data centers approved or proposed for Prince William County, Virginia, he expresses most concern about a very large data center, Devlin Technology Park, that is being considered for approval by the Prince William County Supervisors. After conducting a study that predicted loud sound levels, including loud HVAC sounds, from the proposed data center, he noted that the existing sound ordinance may not be adequate with respect to curtailing these sounds because HVAC systems are exempted.

Stressing that loud sound levels would impact adversely on the health of nearby residents and would intrude on the learning in schools near the proposed data center, recommendations as to how to properly assess the potential sound levels are essential as are recommendations for proper noise mitigation. Despite these considerations, one of the supervisors is quoted as saying she will not support the Devlin Tech Park, fearing not enough will be done to contain the higher sound levels.

What was especially interesting about Cary’s article is that critical legal issues are being raised with noise enforcement at the center of the discussion. We should follow both cases above to learn whether noise impacts are seriously being considered as cities approve data centers and the noise emanating from these buildings.

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