Google barge on 'hiatus' amid scrutiny from two agencies

No VIPs will be checking out Google Glass onboard the floating structure until at least late spring after the Coast Guard and another public agency raised concerns about Google's plans.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
The Google Barge has been sitting idle, with no construction activity going on, since late October. Now it seems that the project may not be complete until late spring at the earliest. Josh Miller/CNET

Whether it's a Google Glass store or a showroom for all things Google X, one thing is clear: No one will be visiting Google Barge anytime soon.

The once-mysterious barge, currently sitting idle alongside a pier at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, is officially "on hiatus," CNET has learned. And while Google is likely still planning on completing the project, it probably won't be finished until well into 2014, long after it was originally supposed to be up and running.

"A variety of senior BCDC staff members have met with Google's representatives to learn about its plans," said Brad McCrea, director of regulatory affairs for the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. "We have learned that the barge is still under construction, albeit in a hiatus, and likely will not be completed until late spring 2014. In addition, Google is still exploring options for how to use the barge when it is completed."

Added McCrea, "It's our understanding that the design changes are to the interior of the vessel, as requested by the Coast Guard."

Inside the Google Barge (pictures)

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When CNET first visited Treasure Island in October, prior to breaking news of Google's ties to the large structure built out of dozens of shipping containers atop a freight barge there, many workers were spotted on and around it. But in numerous visits since then, CNET has never seen anyone except a security guard onboard.

Last month, the San Francisco Chronicle obtained an official proposal made by Google to the Port of San Francisco that laid out the tech giant's plans for the barge project. The proposal called for a floating temporary showroom for Google products and projects that would make various stops around the bay before departing for Southern California. It also suggested that the Google Barge -- called "San Francisco Studio" in the documents -- would be making its first stop at San Francisco's Fort Mason in November 2013.

Although the Coast Guard told CNET on October 31 that it "did not stop any work on" Google Barge, activity seems to have paused almost immediately following a Coast Guard inspection which took place on October 23. And as of this writing, the project is still covered in scaffolding and dark netting, with no work being done on it.

The Coast Guard has yet to offer any additional details in response to CNET questions about its inspection of the Google Barge. Still, the most likely possibility is that the agency called into question the barge's suitability for being visited by members of the public, which Google's proposal made clear was a major goal of the project.

Scrutiny from a second public agency

At the same time, BCDC has said repeatedly that Google has yet to officially request a permit to dock the barge in San Francisco, something that may well be required under state law. Perhaps even more problematic, BCDC is now considering whether it will require Google to obtain a permit if it wants to continue construction at the Treasure Island site.

As a result, it seems likely that, facing multiple concerns from two separate public agencies, the hiatus is self-imposed while Google regroups.

All Google has said about the project is that "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." The company did not respond to a CNET request for comment today.

For BCDC's part, its willingness to grant a permit for Google Barge is dependent on its determining that the project is not "fill in the bay," a term meaning a vessel moored there for too long.

But problems may be awaiting Google well before it is ready to bring the barge into San Francisco and have the public aboard. McCrea said that BCDC has begun an investigation, which should be complete within "a few weeks," into whether Google needs a permit to complete work on the barge project at Treasure Island. "At that time, we will discuss with Google whether or not the barge can be constructed there or will have to be completed at a different location. Should Google decide that its plans include using the barge in the Bay, BCDC will ensure that Google complies with all of BCDC's applicable laws and policies that protect the Bay as a precious state resource."