A company that supports cryptocurrency mining Monday night withdrew a request to erect a large data processing facility near Belvoir Elementary School.
Compute North believes a majority in Pitt County supports and wants their business, Vice President of Site Development Jeff Jackson told the Pitt County Board of Commissioners, which was set to continue a hearing on a special use permit.
But the request also prompted opposition from school parents and neighboring residents, and Jackson said the company listens and acts with integrity. “We are positive business partners with our communities,” he said. “It is clear to us this is the right decision.”
He said despite ongoing efforts to educate the community, “... it remains clear to us there is a significant amount of misinformation and confusion about our company, our industry and about our project. We feel it’s very important in situations like this to educate, for no other reason than to make sure the truth is told. Facts and truth do matter.”
Compute North sought the permit to operate a cryptocurrency mining facility on property bounded by Belvoir School Road, NC. 33 West and U.S. 264 bypass (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard).
The company’s plan was to install 89 modules containing computer processors that would solve complex mathematical problems in order to earn digital currency.
The project prompted protests when it became clear the proposed site was about three-tenths of a mile from Belvoir Elementary School, which has a predominately Hispanic and African American population.
Opponents said the operation, which would rely on more than 1,200 fans to cool the modules and processors, would create too much noise and disturb students, nearby households and wildlife.
Compute North said it had sound mitigation plans that would limit the noise heard in the community.
There were also concerns that the operation would consume too much electricity and drive up local electric rates, as occurred in a New York state community.
Greenville Utilities Commission administrators said it had sufficient electric supply for the company and supported the project. The administrators said Compute North’s electric usage could in fact help stabilize rates for other computers.
“Statements have been made that perhaps this project site was located to somehow target a marginalized community or without regard to the community we planned to join,” Jackson said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Jackson said the company was “caught off guard by the lack of trust” that the operation would be in compliance with the county’s sound ordinance.
“It is the law, we must follow the law. It is fundamental to business,” he said.
Jackson said he was also surprised by statements that the facility might endanger the local environment.
“Our facility generates no emission. It uses no chemicals or hazardous or toxic materials in the cooling of the computer servers and has no material impact on the surrounding environment,” he said.
Commissioners were scheduled to hold the second half of a quasi-judicial hearing on Compute North’s request.
Prior to the meeting, 15-20 opponents gathered outside the Pitt County Office Building to rally against the project.
While many had heard about Compute North’s planned withdrawal, many wouldn’t believe it until Jackson said the words.
“I am definitely elated at the thought of it, but we don’t want to respond until it’s official,” said Tonya Foreman, founder of CAREE, Citizens Advocating for Racial Equity and Equality. “We are going to follow this through until the end and wait for an official withdrawal.”
Foreman later said she was disappointed about Jackson’s claim that misinformation was spread about Compute North. She said members of CAREE and the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina were always careful to use the materials Compute North provided to discuss its operations.
When it was pointed out that a speaker at one community meeting did raise the possibility of chemicals and other emissions, Foreman said that person spoke as an individual and not a group representative.
Foreman said Compute North’s decision to withdraw was exciting but she always viewed it as a David versus Goliath situation.
“I firmly believe that if the enemy puts a Goliath in front of you, God puts David inside of you,” she said.
“We are very proud and very happy they did that and also we are very proud of the work that the community has done to get out here and exercise their voices and to let their voices be heard. We are very proud of that,” said Faye Bordeaux.
While the Belvoir project didn’t come to fruition, Jackson said he believes Compute North will find the right community in eastern North Carolina. The company already has had other North Carolina jurisdictions reach out to them.
“With support from our local partners, we remain optimistic about receiving approval to commence with building a new data center facility in eastern North Carolina, bringing benefits to the local economy and power grid,” the company said in a statement released before the commissioners’ meeting.
“Integrity is a core value at Compute North and our desire to be a good neighbor and valued member of the business community is authentic and unwavering.”