A company that supports cryptocurrency mining and wants to build a facility on property near Belvoir Elementary School is facing pushback from nearby residents and concerned parents.
Compute North, a Minnesota-based firm that operates facilities in Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas is seeking the Pitt County Board of Commissioners’ approval to build a facility on approximately 20 acres of property off of Belvoir School Road north of Greenville.
Commissioners, who just last month approved a change to the county zoning ordinance to allow Compute North to seek the special use permit, are scheduled to hold a public hearing and possibly vote on the matter Monday.
Opposition has mounted since The Daily Reflector covered news about the zoning change and signs went up on property near the school announcing the special use permit hearing. About 40 people turned out Wednesday for an information session hosted by Compute North at Staton House Fire Department in response to the concerns.
“It is bad enough that the county wants to bring in a business whose model is based completely on speculation and energy consumption, that will only employ 20 people, and that will diminish the bucolic appeal of our area, but to allow it to be built next to a school and so close to rural residential areas is unconscionable,” said a letter to commissioners from Molly Holdeman, whose child attends Belvoir School.
The property Compute North wants to purchase is near the interchange of U.S. 264 bypass and N.C. 33 West. The company also plans to lease another 30 acres along N.C. 33 West. The properties are about three-tenths of a mile from the elementary school, said James Rhodes, Pitt County director of planning and development.
The property was selected based on three primary criteria, according to Kristyan Mjolsnes, Compute North’s vice president of marketing. It’s close to a Greenville Utilities Commission substation, it is next to a heavily trafficked highway and the property was previously permitted for use as a solar farm.
“We felt these characteristics made the site ideal for our type of facility,” Mjolsnes said.
Cryptocurrency mining requires large scale data processing facilities. The currency is created, or “mined,” by banks of data processors that solve complex computational puzzles. The commissioners last month amended its zoning rules to allow large-scale data processing facilities to operate at the request of Compute North.
In its permit application, Compute North said it wants to build 89 modules on the site, along with a warehouse/office building, Rhodes said. The bulk of the buildings will be built along the property’s boundary with U.S. 264 Bypass, he said. It places the modules near an existing electric substation and distances them from the residential area.
The modules are cooled by moving outside air through the units. A video on Compute North’s website shows between 12-14 fans on each structure.
“The resulting loud hum can be heard well beyond the development standard of 100 feet from a residence,” Tamara Shusterman, a project opponent, wrote in a letter to the editor published in The Daily Reflector on Wednesday. “Imagine kids trying to learn with constant noise.”
Another opponent was worried because the site is near a stable where her horse is boarded. She is concerned that sound may damage the hearing of the animals at the site.
Holdeman referenced an April article in The New Yorker about operations driving up the cost of electricity in Plattsburg, New York, prompting an a moratorium on new mining operations.
Rhodes said he is not concerned that noise from the facility will affect the school because it’s about a third of a mile away.
Mjolsnes said the fans do make noise.
“However, since the noise is from the fans it dissipates quickly and is not mechanical or ‘clunky’ in nature,” Mjolsnes said. “We are finalizing our acoustical modeling to provide site-specific data on noise levels.”
“There will be noise mitigation required if there are any noise levels above what our noise ordinance allows,” Rhodes said. The facility must abide by the noise ordinance, so a sound study is being conducted.
“It may require some noise mitigation measures, and that’s everything from vegetation, or if needed, some other type of improvement,” Rhodes said.
Levels can vary based on the environment, Mjolsnes said, and the site will be in compliance with the county’s noise ordinance.
“Compute North is committed to being a long-term, positive member of the local community and we are ready to invest material dollars to ensure noise mitigation solutions are in place to maintain the current character of the surrounding area,” she said.
Rhodes said county planning staff believes Compute North can meet the criteria to receive a special-use permit if it follows a list of additional conditions staff will ask the commissioners to impose. The criteria include:
- Since the site is located with a watershed, no more than 36 percent of the surface area can be impervious.
- Proposed roads within the development have to meet standards that allow fire apparatus to access the site. This must be determined by the county fire marshal.
- The company must provide an analysis of the projected noise levels and mitigation efforts to ensure it complies with the county noise ordinance.
- The 20-foot buffer along the property’s northern boundary shall be landscaped in accordance to county’s highway overlay district.
- There also has to be screening along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.