A decision to allow data processing facilities that mine cryptocurrency in Greenville’s industrial zones brought out about a dozen candidates to speak to crypto opponents over the weekend.
The North of The River Association, along with Coalition Against Racism, sponsored the event at St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church located on Fleming School Road.
The association asked questions about events that led to the Greenville City Council to approve a new ordinance that allows data processing facilities to operate within the city and areas controlled by city planning rules.
Opponents are concerned about the enormous amount of energy utilized by the facilities, noise generated by industrial fans that run constantly to cool the processors and attempts to locate the industry in low-wealth areas populated largely by minorities.
Last fall, Compute North, which describes itself as a “sustainable, cost-effective computing infrastructure,” unsuccessfully tried to locate a data processing facility near Belvoir Elementary School.
“Many of us for years fought racial discrimination,” said Ed Carter, president of the North of The River Association and former mayor of Greenville.
“We are now experiencing a new era … we are experiencing environmental racism.”
He said it was noteworthy to see the candidates who attended Saturday’s event and the ones who did not.
“We want to make sure these candidates tell you what they are about so you can look six months from now and say you are doing a good job or you should go home,” Carter said.
The forum started with candidates being asked their position on allowing cryptocurrency mining in Greenville.
Elizabeth “Liz” Liles, who is challenging incumbent Mayor P.J. Connelly, spoke about serving girls and young women who attended Belvoir Elementary and live in northern Pitt County through her organization Daughters of Worth.
“I believe as an elected official you have one job, and that job is to represent and protect the people that you serve,” she said. “That means listening to the voices of the people and you make certain the decisions being made impact everybody in a positive, good, beneficial way.
“If it puts anyone at risk, if it’s going to put anyone in harm’s way, if there is a question about the credibility and the integrity of the company, then you stop, you pause and you do not make decisions that are going to profit a few on the backs of the marginalized,” she said. She called for the group to “say no to crypto” together.
Connelly did not attend Saturday’s forum.
“I’m listening and learning,” said Marion Blackburn, who is running for the council District 3 seat. Elected officials should listen when so many people are opposed to an action being considered.
Blackburn’s opponent, Nathan Cohen, didn’t attend the event.
Councilwoman Rose Glover, who is being challenged by Tonya Foreman for the council’s District 2 seat, reminded the group she voted against the rule changes because allowing data processing facilities would affect so many people.
“These things always come to the African-American community and we don’t know what will happen to the people out there.”
Foreman, founder and executive director of CAREE, helped organize opposition to a company that sought to place a data processing facility near Belvoir Elementary School.
“I’ve been fighting it from the beginning and I am very disappointed in our City Council that they have passed the crypto mining plant to be placed in another location. I think that fight needs to continue diligently.”
William Shiver, who is challenging Councilwoman Moncia Daniels for the council’s District 1 seat, started his response by saying he supports “say no to crypto.” Shiver said there should have been more open communication about the effort to allow cryptocurrency mining in the community.
Daniels, who voted against the rule changes, didn’t attend Saturday’s forum.
Individuals running for seats on other elected bodies, including the Pitt County Board of Commissioners and North Carolina General Assembly also weighed in on the issue.
Ann Floyd Huggins, who is seeking re-election to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners District 1 seat, said the commissioners modified the county’s ordinance permitting data processing facilities as a special use, to strengthen noise regulation, increase the distance between a proposed facility and surrounding properties and regulate the types of data processed as such facilities.
Mildred Sneed, who is challenging Huggins, said she doesn’t know as much about the issue as she would like but believes it’s been a clandestine process.
Faye Hardy Bordeaux, the Democrat running for the Pitt County Board of Commissioners District 4 seat, said she opposes cryptocurrency mining in the county, reminding the audience she also was one of the opposition organizers. Bordeaux does not face a primary opponent.
Bethel mayor Gloristine Brown, who is competing with Sharon McDonald Evans for the Democratic Party nomination in the N.C. State House District 8 contest, said she didn’t know a lot about the cryptocurrency mining issue.
“Don’t get me wrong, if there are jobs coming with this, we do want people to work,” Brown said. “If it’s going to affect our families, if it’s going to affect our schools … put it out in the desert.”
Evans, who serves on Greenville’s Board of Adjustment, said she helped opponents develop strategies for preventing the data processing facility from getting county approval to operate near Belvoir Elementary.
“We don’t need it anywhere in Pitt County, but we’re dealing with a different situation because it’s already received approval,” she said. A strategy needs to be developed to revoke that approval.
“I am with you 100 percent as well as all these candidates are to keep crypto out of Pitt County because it isn’t any good for any resident,” Evans said.
N.C. State Senate District 5 candidates Kandie Smith and Lenton Brown joined the forum after it started.
Brown provided a rundown of his campaign pledges but didn’t address the cryptocurrency issue. Smith received pushback on her response.
“I instructed them (the original opponents) on what to do and they won that battle in Belvoir,” Smith said. “If you don’t want it you have to fight for it.”
“You did not tell us to what to do,” said Molly Holdeman, a leader of the Compute North opposition.
“I said I supported you, I encouraged you, I didn’t give you a plan,” Smith said.
“But you didn’t give us instructions,” Holdeman said. “Did I say that?” Smith asked.
The event moderator stepped in and said there can be a difference of opinion but participants need to be civil.
“We came to learn and to listen. We have two ears for a reason,” said Larry Chance, the moderator and vice-president of the North of The River Association.