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92-year-old actor Robert Duvall joins protest against Amazon data centre

Written by Thu 23 Feb 2023

American actor Robert Duvall joined over 100 protesters speaking against a new data centre build proposed by Amazon. Despite the protests, the town of Warrenton, Virginia voted to provide Amazon with a special use permit to build the facility.

Duvall, a resident of Virginia for 27 years, said that the state was ‘the last station before heaven’ and urged the town to deny the permit, in order to ‘keep it that way’.

“As an actor, I have the privilege to play many roles. My work has taken me all over the world, but I have always returned to Fauquier County, Virginia with a sense of relief that comes from my appreciation for all that makes this place special. The remarkable outpouring of opposition to this proposal indicates that the vast majority of the town and county believe this is a bad use of the site,” Duvall said in an impassioned speech.

Amazon has plans to build a 220,000 sq ft facility on a 42-acre plot near the entrance to the town, purchased by the company in 2021. The transaction was concluded for $39.7 million, more than 11 times the lot’s assessed value.

This site was the scene of a similar protest in 1995, when local activists successfully blocked Walmart from building a superstore on the very same empty lot. Some of the protesters against the Amazon facility were involved in the Walmart protests nearly two decades ago.

The debate continued for more than eight hours. Approximately 100 protestors, including the 92-year old Duvall, spoke of the increased noise, power usage, and environmental impact of data centres in the region, as well as the visual impact of a data centre.

Duncan Nesham, spokesman for Amazon Web Services, said that the company uses well-established business practices and maintains a ‘robust code of business conduct and ethics’.

“With the town of Warrenton, we openly engaged the community through meetings, public filings, and hearings in our aim to build a data centre that will bring significant investment, highly-skilled jobs, and a boost to the local economy,” he added.

Two activist groups have joined together to protest development in the region. Citizens for Fauquier County (CFFC) represents the interests of Warrenton and its immediate surroundings, while the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) works at a larger, regional level across nine counties. The two organisations have successfully blocked large-scale developments from the likes of Walmart, BET, and Disney.

The conservationist groups’ bid was unsuccessful this time, with a town council vote 4-3 in favor of granting Amazon the special permit required for the company to proceed with plans to build. Council member Jay Heroux spoke in favor of the data centre build, noting that the land purchased by Amazon had already been zoned for industrial use, making a data centre an appropriate use for the land.

“We have limited use here, limited land space to do this,” Heroux said. “[Amazon] has rights. They purchased the land, just like if any of us came here.”

“This is not communist China,” he continued. “In this country, we approve and encourage private property ownership – and we rely on the private sector to bring jobs and opportunity to town.”

The opportunity presented by the Amazon data centre would amount to $900,000 per year in tax revenue, according to Heroux – a significant amount for the small town of 10,000.

Image Source: Josh Jensen

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Written by Thu 23 Feb 2023

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