SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday visited a mysterious barge that has been linked to Web giant Google (GOOG), but a spokesman for the agency said he and his colleagues have been ordered to remain tight-lipped about the project.
A top-secret, four-story structure has been erected atop a huge barge that now sits next to a pier at Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, and several signs point to the Mountain View search company's involvement. The barge, as well as three others, belong to By and Large, a company with circumstantial ties to Google, and a regional environmental official told this newspaper Monday that attorneys for Google or an affiliated company approached his agency several months ago to inquire about permits needed if they want to park the floating structure on a long-term basis.
Reuters reported Wednesday morning that a Coast Guard spokesman confirmed that at least one employee had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Google regarding the project. The Coast Guard confirmed Wednesday that they had visited the barge, but would not elaborate.
Lt. Joshua Dykman said he had been told by superiors that he could not discuss the project that is currently underway on the barge, and he could not confirm whether anyone within the Coast Guard had been ordered to sign a nondisclosure statement.
Dykman said he personally had not signed any documentation forbidding him from speaking on the project, but that he was verbally told by superiors he could not discuss it for "legal reasons."
"Once the project is completed, we will be releasing information," he said.
The Coast Guard did confirm, however, that the agency's response to the barge was not due to a medical emergency or a fire.
Nobody knows for sure what the structure is expected to be: Initial news reports have centered on the possibility that Google is building floating data centers, which might use seawater for cooling and produce its own power from ocean wave movement. Google obtained a patent for just such an idea back in 2009. San Francisco television station KPIX reported that unnamed sources said Google wants to use the barge as an outlandish, floating "marketing center" or retail store, where the company could show off cutting-edge gadgets like the wearable Google Glass.
Executive Director Larry Goldzband of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the official who communicated with attorneys representing the project, said they told him they planned on "using the vessel as a tool to teach about technology."
Staff writer Brandon Bailey contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/jowens510.