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Virginia Department of Forestry, Ken Burns raise concerns over proposal for new data centers

The controversy surrounds the proposed “PW Digital Gateway” project. A meeting open to the public in January invites more to share comments.

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — A filmmaker has raised concerns along with the Virginia Department of Forestry about an ongoing controversy in Prince William County involving the proposed construction of new data centers and their potential impact on forest resources.

The controversy surrounds the “PW Digital Gateway” project, which centers around constructing new data centers in a technology corridor along Pageland Lane that will encompass the full space between Sudley Road and Route 29. The corridor lies next to Conway Robinson Memorial State Forest and the Manassas National Battlefield Park. In response to the proposed location, the plan states that the Prince William Board of County Supervisors would coordinate a review of the space, considering native plant buffering and sustainability, in an effort to preserve as much of the area as possible.

Data centers are on the board’s adopted "List of Targeted Industries for New, and Expanding Companies" revised on August 4, 2020, as specified on the website of the county.

However, the Virginia Department of Forestry has shared that, through their analysis, the plan that is set to affect more than 2,000 acres would have a negative impact on forest resources. They explained their position in a letter addressed to the board, dated Dec. 23, 2021.

“The proposed amendment does not describe how the project will avoid or mitigate the potential loss of key ecosystem services provided to Prince William County by both forested lands and open space agricultural land in the Proposed Study Area,” the department stated in the letter, citing the potential effects on more than 400 acres of unprotected forests and 12 miles of streams. 

The department went on to highlight how those natural resources contribute to the maintenance of water quality, clean air, a healthy climate, forest and aquatic biodiversity as well as scenic values. 

Historical documentarian Ken Burns also weighed in by sending his own letter addressed to the board on Jan. 5., stating that the warning of the Superintendent should not be taken lightly.

“As a student and chronicler of American history for more than 40 years, I can attest to how fragile our precious heritage is and how susceptible it can be to the ravages of ‘progress,’” Burns wrote, while sharing that he learned those lessons while making his documentary series "The Civil War" in the late 1980s and a 2009 series on the history of the national parks. “I fear the devastating impact the development of up to 2,133 acres of data centers will have on this hallowed ground. I implore you to seek more appropriate options for this planned development."

Credit: Ken Burns

On Thursday, Jan. 27, the PW Digital Gateway Planning Committee plans to host an in-person meeting to allow the public to share their comments. The meeting will be held at the Beacon Hall Conference Center on the George Mason University SciTech Campus in Manassas.

Additional information about the meeting is forthcoming and will be posted on their webpage, which can be accessed by clicking here, as well as through PWC Alerts.

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