County sells land for data center

A new data center and technology incubator proposed by Mark Cox would include artificial ponds to help cool computer servers.

Clatsop County on Wednesday agreed to a $1.2 million sale of 67 acres in the North Coast Business Park in Warrenton for a new data center and technology incubator.

The project at the corner of Ensign Lane and 19th Street could provide 76 local jobs with an average wage of $75,000. Mark Cox, of Agile Design, also believes it will attract other tech-related companies and help train local students for an emerging industry.

Data centers have been rapidly expanding in the Pacific Northwest because of an abundance of cheap water and power, along with incentives such as enterprise zones, which provide a three- to five-year property tax break on new projects. Cox’s site is part of the Clatsop Enterprise Zone.

Clatsop County also makes sense because of the quality of life, faster commute times and the region’s proximity to the undersea backbone of the global internet, Cox said.

“A lot of people are not aware that about 70 percent of all fiber-optic cable connections that come in on the western continental U.S. is actually within 100 miles of this site,” he said.

His project also falls within the county’s goals for the business park to support year-round employment with a focus on the technology sector, Cox said.

The initial stage of the data center project is estimated to cost $200 million. Cox is funded by investors based on milestones reached in the project, including the sale of the property. He will have a 60-day due diligence period before buying the land.

Only 4.4 percent of jobs in the county are related to science and technology, Cox said, and 1.3 percent are related to computers. In subsequent stages, Cox envisions a complex where other technology companies can locate to take advantage of the high-speed internet the data center will require and a partnership with Clatsop Community College to train technology workers.

Cox referenced a report by Google that showed a $1.8 billion investment in The Dalles related to the company’s data centers and more than 1,000 temporary construction jobs.

Data centers have provided new economic vitality to rural communities, but have also driven up housing costs. In Prineville, a town of 9,200 home to several data centers for Facebook and Apple, construction workers have swamped the local housing market. Rents increased by 7.8 percent a year between 2011 and 2016, the second-fastest rate in the U.S. after Bend, according to The Oregonian.

Chris Clatterbuck, the chief of resource management at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, testified Wednesday before the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners as a private citizen. He asked commissioners to consider the aquatic impacts of data centers, which use circulated water to cool servers. He referenced a Wall Street Journal story that showed the average midsized data center can take 130 million gallons of water a year to operate, equivalent to 100 acres of almond trees.

“That water’s coming out of the Lewis and Clark River, which is essential salmonid habitat, which also doesn’t have a stream gauge on it,” he said.

Wetlands make up more than half of the 67 acres Cox hopes to develop. The hope is to build artificial ponds and collect rainfall to provide the water to cool servers, he said. The technology industry is also looking to make renewable energy sources the primary provider of power to such development.

Cox hopes to break ground in 2019. Dirk Rohne, a Port of Astoria commissioner and former county commissioner, has voiced his doubts about Cox’s timeline because of federal permitting issues. Fort George Brewery purchased 10 acres south of Cox’s site in early 2016 to build a distribution center but has yet to break ground because of wetland mitigation issues.

“That’s probably going to add a couple years right out of the gate, if they’re lucky,” Rohne said at a Port meeting on Tuesday. “I think it’s a long shot, and I hope it works.”

The county commission on Wednesday approved a 40-acre conservation easement on Sitka spruce swamp between Second and Ninth streets in Warrenton to offset 4 acres of wetland impacts at Fort George’s development and for the construction of S.E. Bugle Avenue to the east.

“Hopefully, if we get the wetlands set-aside resolved, they can still begin construction this year,” County Manager Cameron Moore said of Fort George’s project.

County commissioners voted unanimously to sell the land in the business park to Cox for the data center.

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