Google Barge in San Francisco Bay Runs Into Regulation Purgatory

The Google barge has to be moved while permits are secured for its construction and operations, according to a report.

Google's mysterious, four-story barge that's apparently being developed in San Francisco Bay as a floating technology showroom for consumers since October 2013 continues to be in hot water with local and marine authorities.

Now the barge, which was first noticed in the bay last year, must be moved from the area until it has secured the required permits for its construction and operations, according to a Feb. 4 story by The Associated Press. For months, stories have been surfacing about the need for permits for the project, but until now the barge project, near an area called Treasure Island in the bay, was seemingly in limbo.

That indecision appears to have ended, according to the Associated Press story. "It needs to move," Larry Goldzband, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, told AP. "The commission investigated numerous complaints and found that neither the Treasure Island Development Authority nor the city of San Francisco had applied for required permits for the work to be done at the site and could face fines and enforcement proceedings," the story reported. "Goldzband said Google can resolve the issue by moving the barge to one of the fully permitted construction facilities in the San Francisco Bay."

In a vague statement last November, Google did acknowledge to eWEEK that the mysterious barge that had been placed in the bay is seen by the company as an interactive space to learn about new technology. The company didn't refer to a second Google barge that is also reportedly being built in Portland Harbor in Maine. "Google Barge ... A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above," according to a statement sent to eWEEK by a Google spokesperson in response to an email inquiry. "Although it's still early days and things may change, we're exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

Since late October, when the presence of the two Google barges at opposite ends of the nation was first reported all over the Internet, the company has been very quiet about their intent. That, of course, inspired a flurry of attention and guesswork by pundits, news reporters and local officials about the barges. That led to rumors circulating about possible uses for the large floating platforms, including as floating, attention-gaining Google Glass stores or the locations for remote data centers that could be floated wherever they are needed.

According to the latest AP story about the San Francisco Bay barge, the area of the bay where the barge is being built is being leased by the Treasure Island Development Authority for $79,000 per month under a contract set to expire in August.

Mirian Saez, director of the authority, told the AP that the agency "did not intend to violate or circumvent the process," the story reported. "The authority will try to apply for the correct permits with the commission, she said, noting her agency has not spoken to Google about the issue."

Goldzband told the AP that his "understanding is they are going to be in a holding pattern [on the barge project] until the end of winter. What we are strongly suggesting is that this thing is moved in an expeditious manner so when they want to start building again, they can build it lawfully at a place where it is permitted."

The intrigue about the barges even inspired a parody page on Twitter, @GoogleBarge, which has been posting humorous speculative messages about the intent of the hush-hush barges. The latest message, posted on Feb. 3, states: "I tried to hibernate and lay low awhile, but now they're making me move. My inner fury has ignited."

In Portland, Maine, where the other Google barge is on the water in Portland Harbor, the Portland Press Herald reported last October that the two projects, on either side of the United States, are owned by the same company, By and Large LLC, based in Wilmington, Del., and appear to be linked. Experts contacted by the paper said they also buy into the data center theory. Google previously was granted a patent in 2009 for such structures, the paper reported.