Aerial view of Northern Virginia's sprawling development. David Duncan.
American Battlefield Trust

Protect Virginia Battlefields from Massive Data Centers

For decades, developers have been working to buy up America’s irreplaceable battlefield land to build housing subdivisions, racetracks, shopping malls, even casinos. But now, our nation’s unprotected hallowed grounds are facing a new generation of aggressive, once unimaginable threats. 

Big-tech companies are racing to build huge warehouse-style data centers on historic landscapes. These data centers support even more massive warehouse distribution centers, some chewing up hundreds of thousands or even millions of square feet of land.

Although the Trust is not opposed to progress and recognizes the infrastructure needs of our modern society, a simple fact remains: once you pave over a battlefield or other historic landscape, it is lost forever. Never again can we take our children and grandchildren to these places, so they can learn the most important lesson that history can ever teach them — freedom is never free — on the spots where that freedom was won. 

These data centers and warehouse distribution centers, many bigger than shopping malls, are hulking, windowless monstrosities that use enormous amounts of electricity to keep their computers running and support “the cloud” of remote information storage. Right now, more of them are being built than ever before and, worse still, the pressure is concentrated in one of the nation’s most historically rich landscapes. One developer recently called the region between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C., “The Data Center Hotspot of the World.” Northern Virginia alone has more than 100 of them, totaling over 10 million square feet! In fact, as of May 2023, 70% of the world’s internet traffic runs through this region.

According to Trust ally, the National Parks Conservation Association, a data center consumes as much energy as 25,000 households per year and by 2025 the industry may account for a fifth of the nation’s electricity consumption. They emit constant noise and consume massive quantities of water for cooling — a 15-megawatt data center can use up to 360,000 gallons of water a day! – making them difficult neighbors. You can read more about the impact of data centers, via NPCA, here.

And the pressure is not slowing.  Once, data centers were concentrated in areas with other industrial development, but lower land prices are enticing them to rural areas, including to the borders of existing parkland. Multiple major Virginia battlefields, including Brandy Station, Manassas North Anna and the Wilderness, currently face direct and dire threats. Although much has been protected – by the Trust, the National Park Service and other allied entities – at these sites, important areas remain unprotected and at risk.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these datacenters are deeply unpopular with nearby residents. According to a May 2023 NPCA poll, 86% of Northern Virginia residents, a percentage consistent across party lines, want to prohibit data centers within 1 mile of National Parks and historic sites! It’s going to be a priority for them at the polls, too: 96 percent would support elected officials who would take a strong stand protecting these sites from data centers.

Not only are we facing the inexorable pressure of development, but in opposing these developments we are squaring off against tech mega companies with billions of dollars at their disposal. Please help us demonstrate to local elected officials the strength of public support for common sense measures to find appropriate locations for these projects that accommodate the presence of battlefields and historic resources, and that take meaningful steps to mitigate their far-reaching repercussions.

We believe it is important that our country continues to preserve and protect its battlefields and historic sites from massive data centers. If you agree, please take a moment to sign our petition.

Pressing Data Center Threats