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Rural Arkansas 'crypto mines' prompt noise complaints from residents

A nearby resident complains that this Greenbrier crypto mine is emitting an unbearably loud noise.
Josie Lenora
A black gate marks the entrance to a cryptocurrency mine in the Bono community of Greenbrier. A nearby resident complains the mine emits a constant, unbearably loud noise.

Last month, Gladys Anderson, who lives in the Bono community in Greenbrier, started hearing a loud, unbearable sound.

A constant high-pitched hum, ranging from 60 to 70 decibels, is coming from a cryptocurrency mine built less than a half-mile away from her house.

“You can hear it, especially at night,” she said, gesturing at the corner of her house where the bedrooms are located.

Crypto mines are large collections of computers built to harvest cryptocurrency, a completely digital form of money not reliant on any central authority. The computers in Greenbrier are surrounded by a tall, opaque orange fence and signs that say “no trespassing.”

The mines are loud because of the fans needed to keep their hardware cool. In Greenbrier they generally run 24/7, staying on even at night.

Anderson says she hears the ringing fan noise in every part of her large house, from the outdoor pool to the garage, to the guest house where her mother lives. When she isn't home, she says the sound is still "burned into her brain."

Carol Goforth is a professor of law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and has been studying the rise of cryptocurrency.

“There's no coin behind Bitcoin,” she said. “There’s bits of data. There is nothing tangible, nothing physical. It's just alphanumeric sequences stored on computers.”

When it comes to owning Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, Goforth says its value only comes from a belief in its worth by people who own it.

“If I stop being willing to pay for it, it has no value.”

In some sense that's true of any form of currency. Dollars and cents only have value because society has agreed to give money value. Crypto is entirely electronic, as are most transactions done with actual currency. But with dollars, you can buy almost everything. Goforth says with Bitcoin, you can buy very little and it can be difficult to exchange it for actual currency.

A new state law, Act 851, opened the door for more crypto mines to be built in Arkansas. Rep. Rick McClure, R-Malvern, presented the bill in committee on April 3 and it was signed into law about a week later.

“As long as a data center is operating within the zoning laws, they shouldn't be singled out if they are in compliance with the ordinances that are already there,” McClure said in a legislative committee meeting.

The law prevents any kind of zoning or sound ordinance laws designed to “discriminate” against crypto mines and data centers. No one spoke for or against the bill, and only two lawmakers voted against it.

A company called Green Digital LLC is drafting plans to build a crypto mine in the small town of Vilonia. According to a city councilman, the site would mimic the one in Greenbrier. Company representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

According to an administrator in Faulkner County, the mines in Greenbrier are owned by an LLC called New Rays. When asked for comment on this story, CEO Ethan Wang said journalists are “fake news” and voiced his disappointment in the coverage he has seen so far.

At a Vilonia city council meeting last week, an ordinance was passed to cap noise in the town at 60 decibels, about the sound of a conversation.

Mellissa Blackwell, who lives just outside the Vilonia city limits, voiced her concern about the potential health effects on humans and wildlife in the area.

“When living things are exposed to noise, it changes us,” she said.

City Councilman Steven Craig said he was indifferent about the mine.

“I am open for any type of business coming to town, as long as you abide by zoning regulations. And that's where I see it might become an issue,” he said.

A big argument for the mines is that they create jobs. Craig said the mine will create at most five new positions, which will probably be outsourced from Little Rock.

“I am all for entrepreneurship and starting a business. If it creates one job, great. If it creates 100 jobs, even better," he said. "Do I think those jobs are going to be coming from citizens within Vilonia? Probably not.”

In addition to noise complaints, law professor Carol Goforth says crypto mines use too much energy and are bad for the environment.

“Bitcoin mines consume on an annual basis about the total energy consumption Ukraine had before the war.”

Back in Greenbrier, Gladys Anderson says her family is struggling. Her son has autism and is nonverbal. She says he struggles to cope with the noise, but that it would be too much of an ordeal to move.

“Even if I had the funds to do that, my kids have buried pets here. We have planted baby trees,” she said. “And why should I have to move? I was here first, and I'm not disturbing anybody in the community.”

Republican state Sen. Bryan King told Fayetteville station KUAF he’s considering drafting legislation to stop crypto mining in Arkansas. The north Arkansas city of Harrison has already put its plans for a crypto mine on hold.

In Vilonia, members of the city’s planning committee will meet Thursday to talk about the next steps of whether to approve plans for a new crypto mine.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.