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Google structures raise concerns



Published: Wed, November 6, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

San Francisco’s mayor says he doesn’t know what it is. Police say it’s not their jurisdiction. And government inspectors are sworn to secrecy.

Google is erecting a four-story structure in the heart of the San Francisco Bay but is managing to conceal its purpose by constructing it on docked barges instead of on land, where city building permits and public plans are mandatory. Construction became obvious a few weeks ago.

The Internet giant’s actions at Treasure Island appear legal. But the mystery surrounding the bulky floating building — and a similar one off Portland, Maine — is generating rumors and worries.

Privacy experts, environmentalists and legal authorities say that whether it is a store to sell Google’s Internet-connected glasses, a data storage center or something else, the secrecy may backfire because Silicon Valley residents are highly protective of one of the most scenic and environmentally sensitive bays in the U.S.

“At some point they’re going to have to unveil what it is they’re doing, and it will be sad if they have put a lot of money into something that is simply not allowable in the bay,” said Deb Self, executive director of the environmental group Baykeeper.

Self said whether the barge-mounted structure is a store, as is widely rumored, or a data center powered by wave action, for which Google has a patent, there are going to be grave concerns.

“We don’t really want to see the bay used as a shopping mall. Unacceptable,” she said. And environmentalists warn that water-cooled data centers might warm the sea and harm marine life.

There is one agency keeping an eye on things: The Coast Guard has been routinely inspecting the two barges on the East and West coasts, as it would any vessel under construction, but spokeswoman Lt. Anna Dixon said she couldn’t talk about what the agency has found, citing nondisclosure agreements with an entity other than Google.

Such agreements, she said, are “not a standard practice” at her agency. She said she didn’t know the name of the entity.


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