OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Fire at the mine

A surefire way to make sure you won't want to read today is to try explaining bitcoin mining.

When even the person who's writing about it doesn't understand how it works, except that it's not really "mining" as we understand it, you know there's a communication problem. The drilling is done by computers in a building.

Here's one description from the Internet: "Bitcoin mining is the process of creating new bitcoins by solving extremely complicated math problems that verify transactions in the currency. When a bitcoin is successfully mined, the miner receives a predetermined amount of bitcoin." Got that?

All I do know from what others report is the mining requires enormous amounts of electricity, can make ungodly noise day and night, hires few people, offers relatively little to the tax base and generates enough fire among ordinarily congenial residents to pack a new city hall to overflowing on a weekday afternoon.

That's what happened the other day in Harrison when a meeting of the local planning commission to discuss a conditional use permit for Green Digital LLC drew an estimated 400 residents, many carrying signs and loudly voicing displeasure with the plan to create a bitcoin mine on five acres along Old Bellefonte Road in the Southern tip of Harrison.

Rather than vote, the seven-member commission postponed any action until its next meeting in late May. Can't say as I blame them.

Many who were early for the meeting signed up for three minutes each at the microphone. Others who saw no benefit to the community were later allowed to line up and speak. Ethan Wang, project manager for Green Digital, was assigned to speak first, but he didn't.

Numerous conversations in the crowd reflected concerns that the company appeared to have connections with China investors, something that's been echoed about the firm in other communities.

I asked Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson, who opposes the mine, if he knew whether there were Chinese investors. He said he didn't know. So I reached out to Bob Largent, director of the Chamber of Commerce, and asked what he could tell me about Green Digital and how it arrived in Harrison.

He told me he's not the city's original contact nor a representative for Green Digital. Instead, the business is among 410 Chamber investors. As such, he said, it was provided with the same "business information and consulting" every prospective business receives.

Largent said his initial contact with the company came in June 2022."I was contacted by MetaHash Global regarding 54 acres listed on the ADEC site selector website. I connected their representative with Entergy's business development team."

That would only make sense considering Green Digital would be using so much electricity.

Largent said he met in August 2022 with Gang Hu, the CEO and president of Greenland USA, a multibillion-dollar Los Angeles real estate and development company and subsidiary of Greenland Holding Group, which is traded on the Shanghai stock exchange, along with four staff members from MetaHash Global, who subsequently formed and registered Green Digital LLC in Arkansas.

"I have no direct knowledge of their management hierarchy. As for Ethan Yang, Green Digital LLC's project director in Harrison," Largent said, "it's my understanding he is [from China]. He has told me he's on a student visa and has completed high school and college in the U.S. and applied for a Green Card in the annual lottery process with the U.S. Department of State."

Largent told me the business would employ between two and three IT engineering-maintenance personnel on site with an estimated salary of $180,000.

Asked what to Harrison's benefit the Chamber hoped to achieve from the facility. Largent said, "Overall economic growth and prosperity with initial capital investment using local contractors and materials. In addition, there would be the annual salary impact and sales-tax revenue to the city and county from the purchase of electricity from Entergy, as any commercial business provides."

I found it interesting that Entergy, with the most to gain financially from Green Digital, did not have a representative speak at the meeting.

The Harrison Daily Times story said Justice of the Peace Glenn Redding "spoke for the Quorum Court and mentioned that Arkansas Sen. Bryan King has expressed his support for the public that does not want the crypto miners in their towns. He said that King is requesting that the public contact the governor's office about repealing the two recent crypto mining bills."

Rep. Ron McNair said the planning commission should have met before dirt work began, the Times reported, and said the crypto-miner-related laws passed by the Legislature were not vetted properly; no one spoke against it in the session.

"We knew crypto mining was coming," McNair said, adding that the bills were presented in a way which portrayed them as intended to merely regulate crypto mining when they really only made it more difficult for municipalities to regulate the mines.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].

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