Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Bitcoin noise leads to multiple citations issued

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Following a flood of complaints from Hood County residents regarding noise from a bitcoin mining facility now owned by Marathon Digital Holdings, Hood County Precinct 2 Constable John Shirley has issued several disorderly conduct citations.

The citations issued to the facility stem from the Texas Penal Code under disorderly conduct Section 42.01 (c)(2) which reads, “a noise is presumed to be unreasonable if the decibel level exceeds 85 after the person making the noise receives notice from a magistrate or peace officer that the noise is a public nuisance.” Such a violation is a Class C misdemeanor with a fine up to $500 per occurrence. Shirley issued four citations referencing four different readings but did not share the decibel numbers because the matter could end up in court later. He plans to issue more citations as needed.

The citations come nearly 10 months after Hood County Precinct 2 Commission Nanette Samuelson contacted Shirley about the noise complaints and are the result of his ongoing investigation.

In Shirley’s previous experience with the Houston Police Department, he dealt with sound investigations and noise complaints. These investigations and complaints resulted in quickly resolved solutions as Shirley said, “a $500 ticket is going to hurt the average person.”

With the size and scope of the multi-million-dollar bitcoin facility, the $500 citations don’t have much impact, but Shirley is attempting to do what he can for his constituents and residents.

“I want to help the community. Their needs are my needs,” Shirley shared with the HCN. “If this gets into court, I hope we get lots of (sound) experts talking about this.”

The bitcoin plant was sold by US Bitcoin to Marathon Digital Holdings Jan. 12. US Bitcoin built a sound barrier wall in October 2023 to help alleviate the high levels of noise coming from the site. The wall hasn’t made much difference, if any, according to several residents.

Shirely shared that gathering sound readings over time will help him learn more about the sound. For instance, he hopes to learn whether high-level decibel readings are a regular problem or only occur on occasion.

On Jan. 29, Shirley and Samuelson hosted a community town hall at the Twin Canyons Ranch venue where residents voiced their concerns with the noise coming from the site. Representatives from Marathon Digital including Jason Browder, vice president of policy, and Kevin Rash, mining systems engineer, were present to answer questions. Rash told attendees at the meeting that Marathon was unaware of the noise issue and had chosen to attend the town hall to try to solve the problem.

“It’s been very nice over the last three or four months to see the community come on board, and not only those who have been directly affected, but by people who are not necessarily directly affected,” Shirley shared. “This really affects our entire county because this is affecting property values in that part of the county.”

He hopes by continuing to issue citations, Marathon will either self-regulate or come up with a plan that will satisfy both the community and the law.

“Or we’re going to build a case to figure out a way to shut them down, because if you cannot come into compliance in our county and you’re continually violating the law, there needs to be repercussions,” Shirley added. “I’m going to continue to work with every elected official in this county through the legal process as best I can to solve this problem for my constituents… This is an ongoing investigation.”

During a regularly scheduled Hood County Commissioners Court meeting Feb. 13, the bitcoin site was addressed, and many residents directed their concerns to the court hoping to see a plan of action created.

Some residents reported medical issues related to the noise that stems from the plant, such as ringing in the ears, headaches, nausea, sleep-related issues and even livestock and pets being affected.

“I can testify to you today that (the noise) is worse today than it was then (before the wall),” Ron Roberts, who lives a few miles away from the site, said. He shared that he previously used to only hear the noise at night but now hears it during the day as well.

Residents even brought ideas to the court about how to go about solving this issue, such as having the site only operate at night, having an entire building be put around the site to cover it, or making the wall even higher.

Another resident asked the court to seek advice from the county attorney as to whether or not the issue could be considered a public health emergency.

“I sympathize with anybody that hears a noise, no matter what kind it is,” Hood County Judge Ron Massingill said during the meeting. “Let me make one thing clear. Texas counties have no authority to regulate noise… To date the legislature has not conferred upon counties the authority to regulate noise in their unincorporated areas… until the Texas legislature grants the state’s counties authority to adopt noise ordinances, all Texas counties will remain unable to regulate noise. That unfortunately is the law. I wish there was something we could do for you guys. We are powerless.”

Massingill suggested attendees contact their state senator and representative in hopes of them taking it to the Texas legislature. Samuelson told attendees she has been in contact with Sen. Brian Birdwell and Rep. Shelby Slawson to make them aware of the situation. She added she hopes to meet with Slawson soon to discuss the matter further. Commissioner Kevin Andrews said he is available to help anyone with what he can in regard to the issue.

“Our hands are tied,” Commissioner Jack Wilson said.

Samuelson said she invited Digital Marathon to attend the meeting, but was told they would not be able to attend.