Groton — People held a contentious meeting Thursday over a proposed data center agreement for lands south of Interstate 95, a proposal that drew opposition over potential environmental impacts, but the praise from unions and issues in general.
NE Edge LLC under Thomas Quinn is asking the city to approve a hospitality fee agreement for one or more data centers on approximately 173 acres of land south of Interstate 95 between Hazelnut Hill and Flanders Roads and above the Groton Open Space Association Sheep Farm and Sheep Farm. Southern properties.
People raised dozens of questions and concerns during the 2.5-hour meeting, ranging from potential environmental impacts including water use, electricity, data center carbon footprint and any possible contamination of the well, to concerns about traffic and a loss of tax revenue under the data center tax incentive program. Some have asked the city for more time and information before making a decision.
With many people signed up to speak, moderators repeatedly asked residents to only ask questions, rather than make comments, but some residents said they should have the courtesy to take the time to express. their opinions.
Some in the audience praised the possibility of well-paying jobs. Quinn said he had signed working agreements on the project.
“I represent the workers’ union and I am strongly in favor of this project,” said Chad Brault.
But many people, like Eugenia Villagra, Groton resident and co-chair of Groton Conservation Advocates, have raised the issue of the environmental impact of data centers. She noted that Groton recently passed a resolution to address climate change, resilience and sustainability as the central managing director of all city government actions.
She said data centers contribute to global warming and fears the proposed center could create a “heat island effect”. She asked what Quinn would do to reduce the carbon footprint and also raised concerns about potential impacts on wetlands and noise and air quality issues.
Quinn said he added sound-mitigation and environmental protection language to the proposed agreement. He said the proposed facility would be a “green building” that meets state and federal regulations. He said the facility will use air conditioning but, unlike facilities in the South, will not use huge amounts of water.
Quinn said NE Edge will donate at least 50 acres to the city as part of the deal. Separately, the company hopes to purchase a 17-acre parcel owned by the city.
He said the company plans to place the facility away from a vernal pool.
Quinn said the developer will be responsible for utility upgrades, and some residents asked if they might have the benefit of connecting to utilities, as they will face the inconvenience of additional data center traffic. . Residents also asked for assurances that their well water would not be contaminated.
The proposal follows recent state legislation that allows tax exemptions for data centers for periods of 20 to 30 years, as long as the developer meets an investment threshold. Data centers, as defined in the legislation, are computer server facilities that centralize “the storage, management and dissemination of data and information relating to a particular business or classification or body of knowledge” .
Hosting fee agreements define the criteria for potentially licensing a data center and establish the revenue the city will receive in lieu of taxes, City Manager John Burt explained. Quinn, who helped pass data center legislation in Hartford, said the size of the data center NE Edge is seeking to bring to Groton would bring about $1.5 million in revenue to the city each year. .
Quinn estimates that, depending on the size and type of facility or facilities, this would create approximately 80 to 160 full-time jobs.
Although no site design was submitted, he estimated that a data center building would have a footprint of approximately 6 acres, plus parking and roads, but that depends on the operator of the company and what is proposed for the site.
Resident Lauren Gauthier, who is also a member of the Representative Municipal Assembly, asked how much the city would have earned in taxes without the tax exemption. Quinn said the taxes would have been “significantly greater” than the payment the city would receive, but he said the legislation was needed for Connecticut to be competitive with the 34 other states in the country that offer data center incentives.
A question has also been raised about why New England needs such facilities.
Quinn said New England doesn’t have “large-scale data centers,” although it does have smaller ones. He said “one-tenth of the total population of the United States lives within 200 miles of this exact location.”
“We’re going to need to have this broad connectivity, almost like a utility, going forward,” he said.
“It looks like these data centers are a really good deal for power producers,” said resident Kevin Blacker. “We heard earlier from a number of unions that this was a very good deal for them. I wonder if this is for us, the public.”
“Is it time, given the environmental damage to the site and the consumption of energy and consumables, that we as a society reflect on the environmental cost of our data consumption?” Blacker added.
Groton also last year approved a hospitality fee deal with Gotspace Data Partners LLC for land off Route 117. Quinn was a former Gotspace partner.
At one point during the meeting, Joseph Caldrello, who introduced himself as a consultant representing Gotspace and Verde Group, asked Quinn “Who are you?” and “Were you the president of Verde Group?”
Verde Group, whose founder Joel Greene died last summer, is the subject of litigation related to a data center project in Montville.
There is a lawsuit, by Vineyard Meadows Investment and Bruno Blanchet and scheduled for trial in July, against Greene, Verde JG LLC and Verde Group LLC, as well as another lawsuit by All of Us at North LLC against Mohegan Hill Montville LLC, Kleeman Farms LLC, Verde Group LLC and Joel and Donna Greene.
At the meeting, Donna Greene accused Quinn and his associates of destroying the Verde Group and that “there was intellectual property theft”.
Quinn said Friday that everything is in the public domain and the permits are public. Quinn, who said he called himself the CEO of Verde Group, said he obtained land permits for the Montville site and was paid as a consultant until a agreement on a gas plant to supply the center, in which he was not involved, fails. He said he was not named in the litigation.
City to gather more feedback, make changes
“The city received a lot of valuable insights from the public during the data center presentation last night,” Burt said Friday. “Certain points will need to be addressed. I anticipate that the Board will take the time necessary to continue to gather input and consider the wording of the potential agreement before making any decisions.”
City Mayor Juan Melendez Jr. said the presentation was a success in that they got many great ideas on how to improve the proposed hosting deal.
“We are working on making these changes now, and of course we haven’t stopped listening, all feedback is welcome,” he added. “That being said, we are unlikely to meet the developer deadline of March 8. The work that needs to be done to get this deal perfect will take longer than two weeks.”
If the council ultimately approves a deal, the developer would still need approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Inland Wetlands Agency to build the actual facility, said services manager Jon Reiner. city planning and development.