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Google’s Barge Project Investigated

Monday, December 9, 2013

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Once shrouded in secrecy, Google's mystery barge in San Francisco Bay is now wrapped in red tape as officials investigate the odd project's construction.

The bay's Conservation and Development Commission, tasked with overseeing development, is trying to determine whether Google procured the proper permits for the project.

"We want to make sure that the permits that are used by the owners of the pier actually allowed for construction to happen," Larry Goldzband, executive director of the commission, told Reuters on Wednesday (Dec. 4).

The barge, docked at a pier on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, is made of 80 steel shipping containers stacked four stories high and will have sails reminiscent of fish fins.

Google mystery barge
By and Large LLC

Google may be in hot water over its San Francisco Bay project. California discourages permanent Bay structures without clear maritime purposes. Shown here: an artist's rendering of the proposed barge.

Goldzband called the inquiry "a preliminary and formal enforcement investigation." The investigation, focusing on the barge's construction, is expected to take a few weeks.

The commission must issue a permit for any permanent structure on the Bay. The agency has the authority to administer fines and cease-and-desist orders if it finds that Google has violated regulations.

Goldzband said it wasn't immediately clear if the project was ever authorized at the Treasure Island pier.

Keeping Mum

The barge is reportedly registered to a company called By and Large LLC, and property on Treasure Island has been subleased by the same firm. Details about the company are scarce, but it is reportedly connected to Google.

Google has kept quiet about the barge's purpose, releasing only a cryptic statement last month that it was "exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

Since then, most speculation has leaned toward a showroom and interactive technology center.

However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Dec. 2 that it had obtained a confidential budget report in which the barge's builder, Turner Construction Co., said the structure would be used as "a floating retail store."

And that doesn't sit well with officials.

'Public Needs to Know'

"A floating retail store that is not a bay-oriented enterprise would probably make a lot of jaws drop at a commission meeting," Goldzband told the Chronicle.

He added that Google's lawyers have contacted him three times in the last month and a half to say that construction was continuing, without providing details about their intentions.

"We have told them we don't want to wait a heck of a lot longer because ... the public needs to know what Google is doing," Goldzband said.

San Francisco Bay projects
Flickr / Steve Rhodes

Google has reportedly had Coast Guard employees and others sign non-disclosure agreements about what is happening on the barge.

The state of California discourages permanent floating structures on the bay, unless they have a clear maritime purpose.

"The bay should never be seen as an opportunity to do something that could otherwise be done on land," Goldzband told the San Jose Mercury News.

Google might move the vessel around to various ports from San Francisco to San Diego, the Contra Costa Times reported. Documents indicated that the barge is one of three being constructed for a price of $35 million that could be docked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Google officials have also informed the commission that they are making changes to the barge's design after receiving a request from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard visited the barge in late October but was ordered to stay mum about the project details, the Mercury News reported. In fact, at lease one Coast Guard employee and an inspector for a California government agency had to sign non-disclosure agreements with Google, Reuters previously reported.

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Shipyards

Comment from Thomas Matlock, (12/9/2013, 10:27 PM)

Nice to know the US Coast Guard works for Google. And nice of their lawyers to tell the officials that they are still building - something.


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