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Noise complaints about new North Tonawanda cryptocurrency plant

"It was like a jet engine running, while you're sitting inside a plane, sitting on the tarmac," said North Tonawanda neighbor Shane Keyes.

An almost constant whine in North Tonawanda has neighbors near a new cryptocurrency plant along Erie Avenue unhappy with city leaders who they feel pushed the project through.

The facility is located on the former Fortistar natural-gas site. It was recently purchased by the Canadian-based company "Digihost" and now features several two-story shipping containers that are being used to mine and authenticate cryptocurrency. 

But those containers also appear to be the source of a lot of noise.

"It's kind of a whistling or like a howling noise," said John Hahn, who lives just across the street from the facility on Sherwood Avenue. 

His neighbor Shane Keyes who lives just a stone's throw from the plant described it another way: "It is like a jet engine running, while you're sitting inside a plane, sitting on the tarmac."

Neither Hahn nor Keyes expected to hear such a racket when the North Tonawanda City Council and planning board approved the site plan for "Digihost" last summer. The noise peaked on Tuesday and Wednesday they said but as of Friday had dissipated to a dull whir.

Mining cryptocurrency takes a lot of computer power, which generates tremendous amounts of heat. In order to improve output, that computer power needs to be cooled off (often using fans or water-based systems) and just like a laptop fan gets louder as it is worked harder, so do crypto farms.

"I mean we have had to wear ear pods outside to block it out. I'm a disabled veteran and I have really bad migraines and being outside is terrible,” Keyes said.

Complaints were filed with the City and North Tonawanda police were even called to take decibel readings at and around the site this week. There was enough concern that North Tonawanda Mayor Austin Tylec (D) issued a statement Friday to address the noise, he also spoke to 2 On Your Side.

Posted by Mayor Austin Tylec on Friday, February 25, 2022

"We had complaints from as far as a mile away," Tylec said.

Tylec explained that the plant started testing its 'crypto' mining operation this week but after hearing from neighbors about the noise, he spoke to the plant manager. Tylec was informed that 'Digihost' has planned to hire an acoustic expert, although it was not clear if that was in response to the recent complaints or had already been planned.

Back in August, then-Councilman Tylec (prior to being elected Mayor) tried to issue a moratorium for the project but was overruled 3 to 2. The only other vote for the proposal was Councilman Frank DiBernardo. 

Tylec explained that the moratorium could have been used to conduct a noise study or water study and would have avoided this new headache.

“That was the idea right, just halt it a bit it was moving pretty quick let's either create new laws or do studies. Unfortunately, the majority was opposed to it,” Tylec said Friday.

"Digihost" in-house counsel Nick Williams said this about the project when neighbors expressed concerns about the project back in August 2021.

"Our project is different because we're jumping into a plant that is already running and we're simply continuing its run. It's not apples to apple with some other plants for example on the Finger Lakes that were shut down and then re-opening and re-fired," said Williams.

2 On Your Side did request an updated statement from 'Digihost' at 4:18 p.m. Friday but did not hear back at the posting of this story.

In hindsight, neighbors like John Hahn and Shane Keyes agree with Tylec that exploring some of the potential pitfalls of the new industry would have been the best thing for all of North Tonawanda.

The Mayor said Friday that testing is expected to continues for the next few weeks, whether the noise comes back however remains unclear.

"Something had to be done, I mean we can't do it ourselves and if our Councilmen and Aldermen don't step up yeah I have an issue with that. We vote them in to take care of us when something goes on," said Hahn.

Neighbors Deborah Gondek and Darlene Bolsover were so upset with the project that they filed a lawsuit back in November, requesting that the City of North Tonadana temporarily halt the project to further study the impacts of cryptocurrency mining.

"We're not happy about the lack of accountability and transparency, said Gondek.

"So a group of us, we basically had to pool our resources to sue the city to do its job, that’s basically what it's coming down to.”

After several delays, Gondek and Bolsover are scheduled to virtually appear in Niagara County court Wednesday, March 2 for an 11:30 a.m. injunction hearing, which 2 On Your Side plans to virtually attend.

A protest outside North Tonawanda City Hall is also scheduled for the day before March 1 at 5:30 p.m.

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