NEW ALBANY, Ohio (WCMH) — Mark Baranoski observes his creek every day.
The Blacklick Creek is not just his — but about 500 feet of it runs through the backyard of the Plain Township house he and his wife, Emily Eby, bought more than 30 years ago. Baranoski said he looks for noticeable changes in the stream of water, which is more generally surrounded by development projects in a variety of stages.
“We just want to protect the creek,” said Baranoski, who also at one time volunteered for the watershed partnership Friends of Blacklick Creek.
Baranoski and about a dozen other residents attended an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency information session and public hearing Monday night in New Albany that went over wetland permit applications proposing sizable data centers on both sides of Beech Road.
Several voiced concerns about effects to the wetlands, as well as the Blacklick Creek, which flows directly south of the proposed project area.
Proposals for data centers on land Amazon recently bought
In January, Amazon Data Services bought close to 400 acres of land at three connected plots along Beech Road, touching the Franklin County border. The purchase totaled more than $116 million, according to Licking County auditor’s records.
But the permit applications to construct on those same parcels, which include wetlands, were submitted to the EPA in November by MBJ Holdings, a subsidiary of The New Albany Company — the real estate developer with a portfolio of projects including the New Albany International Business Park.
A spokesperson for Amazon previously declined to comment on its plans for the recently acquired land. The e-commerce and IT service management company already has seven data centers in central Ohio, according to Baxtel, an online tracking resource. Three are in New Albany.
The two EPA filings do not disclose who would be running the data centers, either. But they describe facilities, one with 18 data center buildings and another with 11, to the east and west of Beech Road — projects totaling 12.2 million square feet.
“It just feels like we are at a funeral”
Baranoski was only one of two people to offer official public comment at the Monday meeting, saying he worries about run-off from construction. “I am very concerned with the continued degradation of the Blacklick Creek,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, one resident remarked that each public meeting about surrounding projects has felt like a funeral.
The public comment period on the wetland applications closes Monday. According to an EPA spokesperson, the agency “will conduct a technical review of the permit applications and consider public comments” — with a final decision coming no later than early June.
Data center construction could begin as soon as spring 2023, according to the EPA filings, and Amazon does not necessarily need to wait for the permitting process to finish to kick off construction.
As long as it possesses a construction storm water permit, it is authorized to work on the upland areas that would not affect the wetlands, according to the spokesperson.