After a Rocky Start, Bitcoin Mining Operation Moves Forward with Port of Walla Walla, Wash.

The agreement to a short-term lease, up at the end of this year, puts in motion a process for the potential development of a cryptocurrency mining operation.

(TNS) — Ant Creek LLC, the company behind a blockchain proposal in Western Walla Walla County, has entered into a lease agreement with the Port of Walla Walla.

The short-term lease on 10 acres between the Dodd Road Industrial Park and Wallula Gap Business Park began July 2 and runs through the end of the year.

It is a step forward in development of a possible cryptocurrency mining operation and indicates Ant Creek was not discouraged by Port commissioners’ decision three months ago to approve a reduction in scale from the company’s original proposal.

The agreement is part of a lease and purchase option with the Port. Presumably at the end of the lease Dec. 31, Ant Creek will determine whether to purchase the land.

Construction will not take place in the meantime. Rather, Port and Walla Walla County officials say the business will likely file for a building permit with the county.

The move puts in motion a process that could eventually lead to a larger land buy.

Ant Creek and the Port had originally been exploring a proposal that would start with a lease on 10 acres and include an option to purchase that and an additional 30 acres.

Amid outcry from the public over bitcoin mining, its use of electricity resources and its future as an industry, Port commissioners in April agreed to reduce the acreage in order to address public concern. The smaller scale would apparently provide less risk as Ant Creek establishes itself here and builds trust with the public, Port commissioners said at the time.

The move was heckled by many in attendance at the April meeting. Critics of the proposal have panned cryptocurrency mining as speculative, beneficial to a relative few, draining on resources, and not a valuable return on investment, pointing to electricity concerns in Wenatchee and Chelan County where blockchain facilities have capitalized on the Northwest’s inexpensive energy rates to become major users on the grid.

Ant Creek is a project of Jihan Wu, co-founder of Bitmain, the world’s largest manufacturer of bitcoin mining equipment and now reported as the largest crypto conglomerate in the world.

The lease value on the Port property, with base rent and a 12.84 percent state leasehold tax, would be $4,701.67 per month. If the purchase option is exercised, the land would be sold for $15,000 per acre, for a total of $150,000. Lease payments, minus the leasehold tax, would be applied to the purchase.

The Port would pay about $140,000 in design cost for access improvements and about $300,000 in the extension of potable and fire-suppression water to the property.

Ant Creek would pay for a $2.5 million roadway that would provide access not only to the property now but also to other surrounding properties. There is currently no access.

Walla Walla County Community Development Director Tom Glover said this morning it’s difficult to know without an official proposal yet whether a SEPA review will be needed or whether critical areas may be included.

“We won’t know anything until they submit an application,” Glover said.

©2018 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.