An application to establish a data center for crypto mining at 300 Beech St. in the former Pine Bluff Commercial building was denied by a unanimous vote of the Pine Bluff Planning Commission on Tuesday.
Business owners and neighbors attended the monthly commission meeting, expressing their disapproval of the operation because of the noise created by the many fans that are used to keep a bank of as many as 340 computers cool. Computers are used in crypto mining operations to validate cryptocurrency transactions.
The measure was tabled last month when no one showed up at the meeting to defend the application. But that did not stop Larry Reynolds, executive director of Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning, from voicing several questions and observations about the proposed operation and giving it a thumbs down at that time.
His remarks included comments about crypto mining operations in general, such as the noise they create, the enormous electricity they require and the fact that, in many cases, that electricity is produced using old technology that is harmful to the environment. Reynolds' recommendations are taken into consideration by the commission, which has the final say on such matters.
Joe Delmendo, owner of Commonwealth Real Estate of El Segundo, Calif., purchased the property at a business auction in November for $619,000. An employee of the company, Drake Seal, attended Tuesday's meeting.
Several questions were posed to Seal, but he was unable to answer some of them and had to call the company's architect to get answers to questions, such as how many fans would be needed and how long would they run.
According to the architect, the fans would operate according to the temperature and the heat of the computers, but he couldn't say how many fans would be used at one time.
In April, the Pine Bluff Commercial reported the former Pine Bluff Commercial building was already being prepped to become a cryptocurrency mining operation and was being cleaned out and brought up to code.
Marry Doris, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, which is directly across the street from the building site, played a recording of the fan noise, which she described as a "constant roaring" in her ears.
Backed by several members of the congregation, Doris said they were not opposed to having the industry come to Pine Bluff, but they were opposed to it coming to a residential neighborhood.
"It's not a commercial district," said Doris, who also pointed out the noise is ongoing and would distract the 200-plus students who attend Lighthouse Charter School, also located across the street. She also stated the noise would disturb their church services.
Other church members said that, based on their research on crypto mining, they learned that crypto mining requires so much energy that other cities with such operations have been unable to meet the necessary power demands.
Will Jenkins, a local business owner who also spoke against the application, said he has purchased several bed and breakfast homes in the area that he is restoring and doesn't want them to be adjacent to something that "sounds like an airport."
"This group should have done their homework," he said.
Reynolds was absent from Tuesday's meeting, but commissioners were reminded of his recommendation not to approve the application. Reynolds said that in some areas, electricity rates have risen for all consumers because of the increased demand. "With increased power comes increased environmental concerns due to fossil fuel usage," he said. "China has banned crypto mining for this purpose."
Austin Joyner, who handles public relations and business development for the company, said previously that his company had invested some $1.5 million so far in the project, which includes the sale price of the building, and that the company was talking with Entergy in an effort to increase the amount of electricity coming to the building.
One of the reasons the company became interested in the former newspaper building was because of the beefed-up electrical service that was used to run the newspaper's printing press.