Google’s Floating Mystery Boxes

by Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP

It was moored quietly in the Bay. Google

But when a four story structure made up of shipping containers was erected, questions began to be asked.

Elected officials said they didn’t know. The police said it wasn’t in their jurisdiction. And the Coast Guard was staying mum.

Barge 1Some speculated that it was a floating data center. Others thought it was a R&D laboratory. And still others said it was housing the last remaining dinosaur.

When it was discovered that the owner of the barge was a company called By and Large, LLC, a take perhaps on the fictitious company Buy and Large from the movie Wall-E or a bastardization of the word “barge,” and that there were ties to an individual working at Google, speculation ran wild.  

Google, however, remained silent. By building a (wink, wink) vessel not a building – plans, building permits, and planning commission approval – all of which are viewable by and open to the public, could be avoided.  

Brge2But almost as soon as it began, construction suddenly stopped. Stopped in its tracks by that saboteur of even the best laid plans, Murphy’s Law, also known in this case as the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (“BCDC”).

The BCDC, which is charged with protecting the resources of the San Francisco Bay, determined that it was necessary to obtain a permit from the BCDC before undertaking “most” work in the bay or within 100 feet of the shoreline including filling, dreading, shoreline development and “other” work.  The mystery barge was apparently “other” work which fell within the broad parameters of “most” work.

Barge conceptGoogle, who had by this time acknowledged owning the barge through By and Large, LLC, either had to get a permit, which would require the filing of publicly available documents, or move on. Google decided to move on and moved the barge this past week to Stockton, Calfornia where it was warmly greeted and even mentioned on the Stockton Visitors page (take that San Francisco!).

So, what’s on the barge? In a press release Google stated: “Google Barge … A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above. 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.”

Barge 3Google’s good. Really good. While many are saying that the mystery has been “unveiled” and that the barge will be used as a floating retail store, I say not so quick. I think Google has invented a new type of double-speak using humor as a distraction device. “Yeah, it’s been fun guys, but here’s the (pretty dull) reality, it’s just (possibly, maybe, we’ll see) going to be a [insert vague description that can be read a ton of different ways].” Has Google really revealed anything?

Here’s what we do know:

  • The “mystery” barge is just one of a four vessel fleet (the second is currently in Portland, Maine and the other two have not yet been built) and will purportedly cost $35 million to build.
  • The barges’ registrations are BAL 0001, BAL 0010 (Stockton), BAL 0011(Portland) and BAL 0100, which (un)coincidentally in binary computer code, are the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4.
  • The structures on the barges are being built by Turner Construction Company.
  • The barges themselves were constructed by C & C Marine and Repair.
  • The barges are 250 feet long, 72 feet wide, and 16 feet deep.
  • The structures on the barges (at least the first two) are constructed of 40-foot interchangeable shipping containers stacked into a single rectangular structure – four shipping containers long, four containers wide, and four containers high.
  • The project is being overseen by Google founder Sergey Brin himself and members from the top-secret Google X team.

Other than that, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still a mystery.  Or maybe I just like to think they may contain the last remaining dinosaurs.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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