JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Limestone residents waiting for a final lawsuit settlement that would remove a noisy Bitcoin mine from their neighborhood are likely going to have to wait a bit longer after the mine’s operator failed to provide requested information by Wednesday.
That’s when the Washington County Commission’s Commerce, Industrial and Agriculture (CIA) committee would have reviewed a final settlement proposal at its monthly meeting — one that includes relocation of the mine to the Washington County Industrial Park (WCIP) in Telford. Washington County is suing Red Dog Technologies, the mine’s operator, and BrightRidge, the utility it leases land and buys power from.
“We’re the committee that would take a look at it and make a recommendation to the full commission about voting it up or down,” CIA Committee Chairman Phil Carriger said. At the county commission’s July 25 meeting, County Attorney Allyson Wilkinson said that was a necessary step for the full commission to be able to review a final settlement proposal at its Aug. 29 meeting.
People in the New Salem community of Limestone began complaining about excessive noise from the mine in May 2021. The noise comes from large fans used to cool high-powered computer equipment, which performs complex (and energy intensive) calculations to “mine” the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and to verify Bitcoin transactions.
Washington County sued BrightRidge in November 2021, later adding Red Dog to the suit, alleging the mine violates the county’s zoning ordinance. When county commissioners, BrightRidge, Red Dog and the parties’ attorneys hammered out a settlement deal June 9, New Salem residents thought a final resolution in Chancellor John Rambo’s court was imminent.
“I left that meeting thinking it was a done deal,” New Salem Baptist Church pastor Craig Ponder said of the June 9 negotiations. The tentative agreement included Red Dog leaving the New Salem site no later than Dec. 31, 2024 and most likely much earlier, as well as BrightRidge providing fiber internet (including at least one year free) to 51 homes within a half-mile radius of the mine, which sets next to a BrightRidge substation.
The church received a notice letter from BrightRidge July 11 about the provision of internet. It said construction was under way with initial customers expected to begin connection the week of July 25.
“I’m really surprised and a little disappointed that it’s not happened any quicker than it has,” Ponder said of a final settlement. “I’m concerned and my neighbors are … that nothing has been resolved.
“We wonder if turmoil on the other end is going to slow it down on our side,” he added, referring to public opposition in Telford to locating a new mine at the industrial park.
Missing the CIA committee meeting deadline makes it unlikely the full commission will consider whether to approve a deal at its Aug. 29 meeting.
Commissioners, Red Dog and co-defendant BrightRidge hammered out a deal at a meeting June 9 but finalizing things on paper has been a slow process. The lawsuit to have the operation shut down remains open and would proceed if a settlement can’t be reached.
Wilkinson said July 25 the county had made an offer of property for the new mine, within the WCIP, earlier that month.
“When that offer was made the county also sent a proposed settlement agreement and also sent a proposed or at least draft text amendment language (to change the zoning ordinance) so that could all be discussed at one point,” Wilkinson said. “Kind of a kit.”
As deadlines pass and the current mine continues operating, Carriger said he’s learned that waiting is common in situations like this.
“I’ve learned in government service that you don’t hope, you just deal with the facts when they appear,” Carriger said. “You’ve just got to be a pragmatist.”