JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy told county commissioners Monday he was taking a leave of absence from the BrightRidge board of directors while a lawsuit the county has filed against BrightRidge is resolved.
Grandy told commissioners he’s been called as a witness in the suit, which is scheduled to be heard in Chancellor John Rambo’s court Wednesday.
Filed Nov. 15, the suit requests an injunction that would force BrightRidge to quit supplying power to a Bitcoin mine operated by Red Dog Technologies, a private company whose Bitcoin operation creates a level of noise that drew complaints from neighbors.
The county granted a rezoning to BrightRidge in February 2020 for a “blockchain data center.” The suit contends that while a public utility’s operations in the A-3 zone are permitted, use by a private company for a cryptocurrency mine is not.
Because of his now-mandatory involvement in the lawsuit, Grandy said he “need(s) to be away from that organization.”
Grandy has come under particular criticism from Commissioner Kent Harris for his role in the controversy surrounding the mine next to the Phipps substation on Bailey Bridge Road in rural Limestone. Harris has suggested that Grandy either knew or should have known specifically what BrightRidge was planning for the site.
Grandy said in an August commission meeting he didn’t know BrightRidge was planning to lease property next to the substation for a cryptocurrency mine.
“I had the same information you all did,” Grandy said, adding when pressed by Harris that as a board member he was given no information about a Bitcoin mine project. “I had no reason to dig any further so I’ll take the same responsibility.”
As part of its investigation of the Bitcoin mine story, News Channel 11 learned through a public records request that Grandy did know one important piece of information prior to commissioners.
The county’s planning director and attorney both informed him in late May that in their opinion Red Dog’s use of the property violated the county’s zoning ordinance.
As county commissioners pushed the Red Dog issue through the summer, Grandy didn’t reveal that information to them. They didn’t learn until September that the attorney and planning director both had recommended months earlier that Grandy consider a shutdown order.
That knowledge finally came a month after they directed Allyson Wilkinson, the attorney, to research what type of recourse the county might have in the matter.
Monday, Grandy dismissed the notion that he had ever put BrightRidge’s interests ahead of the county’s.
“I’ve been and always will be here in the interest of Washington County and the citizens of Washington County,” Grandy said. “It’s my duty, it’s my responsibility and it’s my love.”
Harris had discussion of the county BrightRidge board appointment placed on Monday’s agenda, but following his announcement there was no further discussion about the issue.
Arguments Wednesday are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., with Wilkinson representing the county and BrightRidge counsel Steve Darden representing the utility.