Published on 13th August 2021
The site approval for a bitcoin mining data center operated by Lake Mariner Data LLC to be developed on the premises of the former coal generating plant in the Town of Somerset has been granted – with some caveats.
Speakers from all sides of the debate spoke in Somerset Town Hall. Noise, light pollution, and increased energy bills, according to others, will make the data center an unbearable strain for locals once it is fully operating. Others argued that the municipality needed the tax income and jobs that such a project would provide.
The project entails the construction of four warehouses that will contain computers that will mine bitcoin using 90 percent clean energy generated by the hydropower plant. Dissenters argued that instead of crypto-currencies, sustainable energy might have been used to power dwellings. Others talked about how the data center would be cooled, which Doug Roll, the project manager, said will be done by 48 fans on the tops of the buildings, totaling 95 decibels at the site. The noise would not bother neighbors, according to Roll.
Long-time resident Jim Hoffman said he wasn't opposed to the data center, but he was concerned about the technicalities.
Hoffman explained, “It has to be viewed through the lens of what we are as a community,” “a small rural community – and this goes back through the wind turbine days – and the basic issues that the majority of people have in this town is, ‘You’re industrializing our town. What are you doing with our lifestyle? We worry about the noise. We’re worried about the aesthetics, because that’s what we’re out here for.”
Pam Atwater, president of Save Ontario Shores, who is opposed to the project, wondered what the cost would be to her and other residents now that the data center has been approved.
"There are some concerns, certainly," Atwater admitted. "I think a lot of people would be disappointed. One of my biggest concerns is this: originally a lot was promised to this town. … All sorts of recreational areas. … I think the least we should do is find out what the town is entitled to put in place before we make these agreements. … I’ve been pushing to get something solid, concrete, because it’s the only way we’ll have any leverage working with a developer."
The next day, Atwater wrote to the US&J, expressing her gratitude for the site plan's approval with constraints and for the planning board's consideration of several of her concerns.
The choice was difficult for the planning board, according to Norm Jansen, chair of the board.
Jansen explained, "It wasn't up to me. “We just try to make sure that everything is good, not only for the taxes. I’ve talked to a lot of residents. … One person here said they were for it. I’ve talked to more than. … You can’t imagine, who say, ‘We got to do this, we’ve got to get tax money coming in!’ Now, is it the best thing? I don’t know, but it’s going to be income from the town that we desperately, desperately need.”
Residents had requested that the public hearing be kept open so that their questions could be answered at the next meeting, but the board discussed for many minutes before making a motion to close it. Krista Atwater was the lone dissenter on the board, with a vote of 3-1.
Chris Czelusta moved to approve Lake Mariner Data's site plan on the condition that lights be shielded to avoid disturbing the dark skies, that construction on the site take into account when school children will be arriving at school, that no building be erected 235 feet from the shoreline, that the development be done in phases, that any significant changes to their plan will necessitate a new site permission from the planning board, that it complies with a local regulation designed to protect highways from heavy equipment, and that the property meets maintenance code. The motion was seconded by Charles Neal.
The site plan was approved unanimously.