Editorials

Could a proposed Google data center in KC become a noisy problem for neighbors?

Will a proposed Google data center in Kansas City become a noisy problem?

Maybe. Kansas Citians will want to keep a close eye on the massive project, now under consideration in Kansas City, North.

The region first learned of Google’s plan to build a data center in July when Port KC approved bond documents that could eventually pay for an expansive project with an initial investment of $600 million.

Since that announcement, a Google subsidiary has purchased roughly 80 acres in Hunt Midwest Business Park, according to the Kansas City Business Journal. That’s presumably where the data center would be located.

The site is relatively close to neighborhoods along NE Parvin Road, and North Brighton Avenue, between I-35 and I-435. And the people living there, and throughout the Northland, may want to read a new article published in The Atlantic.

It turns out data centers can be pretty noisy things. In Chandler, Arizona, a massive data center built by a company called CyrusOne has raised the hackles of homeowners, who say they’re subjected to a constant hum from the center’s huge air conditioners, which are used to keep all those servers cool.

“It’s this humming, rumbling noise that penetrates everything in its path,” one resident told police, as reported by the Arizona Republic.

While a data center may be a somewhat unlikely culprit among noisy nuisances, the incessant sound has driven some residents to distraction — causing aggravation and even anxiety.

The company has worked to reduce the noise, although neighbors remain concerned. They also want to know why their city did not do more to study the noise issue before the data center was built.

Which is where Kansas City comes in. The city must be proactive in understanding the potential for irritating noise from the Google project.

In 2015, the City Council passed an updated noise ordinance. It’s pretty aggressive. Between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., for example, the level of allowed indoor residential noise in the 1000-cycle range, the one audible to most people, is just 39 decibels. That’s about the sound of a humming refrigerator.

A spokesperson for the city’s health department, which is examining the issue, says most of the complaints under the ordinance involve transient noise, such as a too-loud lawn mower. But it’s easy to see how a noisy data center could become a major issue for nearby homes and businesses if the Google project goes forward.

Jon Stephens, the president and CEO of Port KC, said noise oversight would be a city function, but the board is confident Google “will be a good citizen in our community.”

Google could mitigate the noise issue — and perhaps save money — if it builds the data center underground, as some have suggested. Hunt Midwest and Google did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Kansas City officials must pay close attention to this issue as the data center plan takes shape. Data center noise issues have cropped up in other cities and overseas.

Google will get significant tax breaks if it decides to build the data center here. It should meet reasonable standards for quiet operation in the Northland.

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