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Depth charge? Google Barge runs into permit probe

Investigators want to know whether Google secured the necessary permits to build the barge meant to float new technology before the public.

Google's barge under construction in San Francisco Bay.
Google barge in San Francisco Bay.
James Martin/CNET

The Google Barge, not quite as mysterious as it once was, now is facing a mystery of its own: Does it have the proper permits to be in San Francisco Bay?

An investigation launched in the past week by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development will attempt to make sure the barge isn't running afoul of local permit regulations, Reuters reported Thursday. Specifically, the agency, which watches over development in the bay, will examine which permits were needed to build the barge and whether Google secured them.

"We want to make sure that the permits that are used by the owners of the pier actually allowed for construction to happen," Larry Goldzband, the agency's executive director, told Reuters.

Goldzband described the probe as "a preliminary and formal enforcement investigation" focused on the actual construction of the barge rather than its future role.

Google already is making changes to the design of barge at the request of the US Coast Guard, which must ensure that such vessels adhere to certain safety and environmental requirements.

The mystery barge first came to attention in October after an investigation by CNET revealed Google as the builder. The search giant initially was mum on any details, leading to a boatload of theories as to the barge's purpose. Google finally fessed up, acknowledging its connection to the vessel and saying that it's "exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

That may answer one question, but raises more over what exactly people will find on exhibit there when the barge opens for business.