JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Washington County commissioners will meet Thursday to consider settling the county’s lawsuit against BrightRidge over a Bitcoin mine in Limestone.

At least one person who lives near the facility said he hopes one non-negotiable for the county is the same thing the lawsuit seeks — the mine’s departure from its current location.

“I don’t want to … stir the pot anymore, it just needs to go,” New Salem Baptist Church Pastor Craig Ponder told News Channel 11 Friday as the mine hummed in the background at its quieter “peak power” output level.

“There’s just too many other places where it would not impact people’s lives like this one’s doing.”

“I hope settlement doesn’t mean, ‘here’s some money but we’re still gonna be operating.'”

Craig Ponder on a potential settlement in a Bitcoin mine lawsuit

A public notice says commissioners will meet at 5:30 p.m. to “consider potential settlement of litigation known generally as “Washington County, Tennessee v. BrightRidge and Red Dog Technologies.” The suit in Washington County Chancery Court seeks a shutdown of the mine for allegedly violating zoning regulations and operating without a permit.

New Salem Baptist Church Pastor Craig Ponder said any fair settlement in the lawsuit over Red Dog Technologies’ Bitcoin mine in his community needs to include an end to the mine operating there. (WJHL Photo)

Thursday’s meeting at the George P. Jaynes Justice Center will include an executive session, presumably with county attorney Allyson Wilkinson. Commissioners will deliberate in an open session about whether to accept the settlement.

A settlement approved by all parties could end a long-running dispute over the Red Dog Technologies operation adjacent to the Phipps substation in the New Salem community. Rows of metal buildings containing high-powered computer equipment there use massive amounts of electricity to solve complex mathematical equations — the objective being to make money by certifying transactions of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and to “mine” new Bitcoins.

Fans that keep the computer equipment from overheating have produced high noise levels, which led to neighbors’ complaints starting around April 2021. Following several months of back and forth between BrightRidge, Red Dog and the county commission that included Red Dog spending about $500,000 in noise mitigation efforts, commissioners sued in November.

“I think Red Dog has done all they can do with the sound mitigation. By their own testimony they’ve done the research on the fans and the blades and they’ve built the wall, they’ve done the interior stuff,” Ponder said. “If this is the best it’s going to get, it needs to go.”

The lawsuit claims Red Dog’s operation constitutes an unapproved use in the A-3 (agriculture business) zoning district and that Red Dog didn’t get a permit prior to beginning operations in late 2020.

In March, Chancellor John Rambo ruled the operation does violate zoning regulations, but BrightRidge and Red Dog attorneys were set to argue that it shouldn’t be forced to shut down anyway due to actions by the county prior to its startup. A full trial is currently set for July 11-13.

Ponder said his first reaction to the potential settlement was anxiety.

“When I hear settlement, I know settlement means we don’t want to go to court, but I hope settlement doesn’t mean ‘here’s some money but we’re still gonna be here still operating,'” Ponder said. “That’s my fear.”

A BrightRidge substation, left, feeds power to the Bitcoin mine that is the utility’s biggest electricity consumer. (WJHL Photo)

The shoe could fall on favorable ground, though. And Kent Harris, the commissioner representing New Salem, said he wouldn’t support a solution that falls short of the mine’s shutdown at its current location.

“At this point I don’t have any more information than the general public does about what it could be,” Harris said. “Definitely interested in hearing what it is, but if it’s not an offer to shut the mine down my vote’s gonna be ‘no,’ because I think that we’ll win in court and I think that the people down there deserve to have that thing shut down.”

Fellow commissioner Freddie Malone said he’s hopeful the proposal will be something all sides can see at least a partial win. He said he regretted that the commission found it necessary to sue to enforce the county’s zoning laws.

“Litigation is never the best use of taxpayer resources, but it was unfortunately necessary to protect the county’s citizens,” Malone said. “So I am eager to learn more about a proposed resolution that would avoid years of litigation.”

County commissioner voted unanimously to order the mine shut down and then to sue when BrightRidge and Red Dog didn’t comply. Harris said commissioners and county attorney Allyson Wilkinson have shown “strong resolve” but he agreed with Malone that reaching a resolution in court could take a long time.

“If this agreement is to shut that facility down that would definitely be a win for us to get it over with,” Harris said. “I’d like to see it shut down now for the residents in Limestone to have a quiet summer. They could go out, sit on their porch, enjoy themselves without having to listen to the humming of a Bitcoin mine.”

If the settlement ended up including a shutdown of the Red Dog’s New Salem operation, Ponder said residents would likely be very happy.

“We’ve always wanted that to happen,” Ponder said. “And that would be the ideal outcome. Prayerfully, that’s what a lot of folks here are hoping for. I hate to be so heavy-handed and say that’s the only settlement that we would accept. We have to accept (any settlement), but we don’t have to like it.”

Ponder said the operation remains a topic of conversation in the surrounding community “all the time.”

“We know for a fact from a couple of cases it’s impacted some real estate deals, some deals that have fell through because folks when they hear that they’re not going to buy the property.”

The Washington County, Tenn. Commission will consider a settlement June 9 of its lawsuit that seeks shutdown of this Bitcoin mine in Limestone, Tenn. (WJHL Photo)

Ponder said about when the summer sun is going down, the usage kicks up to its maximum load of 25,000 megawatts. When the complaints first began in spring 2021, BrightRidge CEO Jeff Dykes said Red Dog had become the utility’s biggest customer literally overnight. All that power consumption gets Red Dog’s 1,000-plus mining rigs cooking inside their metal buildings and the fans kick into gear.

“Just the other night my wife and I were outside and depending on the humidity, depending on how hot it is, those things you can still hear them. They still rumble rumble rumble. It’s become, I hate to say it, almost a part of life now and it’s not gone away. It’s still a very real problem.”

News Channel 11 requested information from BrightRidge Friday morning regarding what path would be required for its approval of any proposed settlement. The utility had not responded as of late afternoon.