Not in My Neighborhood

Let me begin by saying that I understand that there are some things that most folks just want in their neighborhoods. Who among us would want to live next store to a SuperMax penitentiary or a nuclear waste site? I don’t care how much you dress those places up, they are going to have a negative impact on your property value. That being said, what are the good folk of Newark, Delaware thinking by demanding a public information session on a proposed data center and associated power plant to be erected within their city limits?

Apparently the University of Delaware wants to erect a data center, and a natural gas fueled power plant to drive it, within Newark’s cozy confines, and some of the locals are worried about the impact this will have on their quality of life. I can understand why this would be a concern for some bucolic suburb where the facility was going to be located on some pleasant cul de sac populated with McMansions, but a city with 30% of its residents living below the poverty line? I don’t mean to heap scorn on the plight of the less fortunate, but is having a data center dropped into your midst really the biggest problem you have in life? While a data center may offer some aesthetic challenges to surrounding environs—a dubious claim in a city that resembles London after the blitz—this would rank far below “I can’t find a job” on my list of community considerations.

Naturally, the Sierra Club—I had no idea they even had a Delaware chapter– is up in arms. Apparently, they are concerned that the gas-fueled power plant will generate large amounts of nitrogen oxide, a precursor to ozone in the area. Have they ever been to this place? In a city that was once built on manufacturing and now features a population in which 30% of its resident’s have incomes that don’t reach the poverty line does this count as a potentially apocalyptic event? I guess when you pay your membership dues you feel like you have to a reputation to uphold, but doing anything to discourage new business in Newark probably isn’t the best use of your time or in the city’s resident’s public interest.

I’m sure that my concerns are probably misplaced since Newark has always been a “can do” city.  Local union officials are positively giddy with excitement. While data centers don’t deliver huge numbers of jobs after they are opened, the construction phase offers a multitude of arms to twist.

It will be interesting to see how this Newark data center imbroglio winds up. The real question is: why is this even an issue? Has mono-issue zealotry triumphed over common sense to the point that communities that should be happy that anybody wants to build anything there now let the trivial triumph over their own pocketbooks? If we look at the situation in Newark, we’d have to say, maybe. When you have to depend on the enlightened self-interest of Pipefitters’ Local 431 to bring a sensible perspective to the issue, you become the very definition of dysfunctional. Maybe everyone doesn’t want a data center in their neighborhood, but in Newark—it’s that or nothing.