Nick Hartley BBC News Gales
Almost 10 years ago, James Howells threw away a disk during a cleanup, forgetting the bitcoins it contained.
Today, while the value of what it contains is estimated at 184 million dollars (117,961,490,000 FCFA), Howells today plans to spend millions digging a landfill in Newport (United Kingdom) to attempt to locate the missing hard drive.
If he gets it back, he said he would donate 10% of the proceeds from the sale to turn the city into a cryptocurrency hub.
But local authorities have already said the landfill deterrent poses an ecological risk.
Howells, a computer engineer, accidentally threw the disk away in 2013 after mining 8,000 bitcoins in the early stages of the currency’s development.
The value of bitcoin fluctuates wildly. For example, the value of Howells holdings was around $250 million in January 2021, but with the sharp decline at the start of the year, it is now significantly lower.
Newport City Council, which manages the landfill where Howells believes the hard drive is, has consistently denied him access to the site for excavation work on environmental and access grounds.
Recovering the hard drive would require enormous manual excavation work to remove thousands of tons of compacted debris that washed away from the site over decades.
But the computer engineer believes he now has the funds and knowledge to do so in an efficient way that benefits the site’s environment.
“Digging a landfill is a big operation in itself,” he explains.
“Funding is secure and we’ve hired an artificial intelligence specialist. His technology can easily be trained to search for a hard drive.”
That’s not all: “we also have an environmental team on board. In fact, we will be answerable to a whole team of experts with various skills, and when we all come together, we will be able to carry out this task maintaining very high standards.”
“Significant ecological risk”
But finding the hard drive is only part of this monumental task. There is no guarantee that, if found, his condition will be recoverable.
But if so, its owner is more than ready to receive a mega sum of money, although the actual amount depends on the direction of the volatile cryptocurrency.
Either way, it’s probably several million dollars.
From there, Howells promised to donate 10% of profits to the community. And he already has in mind how he is going to invest it: “we have a whole list of initiatives”, he adds.
“One of the things we would like to do on the current landfill, once we have cleared and reclaimed the land, is to install a power generation facility there, maybe some wind turbines. We would also like to put in places a community-based bitcoin mining facility and uses the clean electricity generated by the turbines to create cryptocurrencies for the people of Newport,” he explains.
Also among his many projects is a proposal to give around $60 worth of bitcoin to every Newport resident and install cryptocurrency hosts in every store.
But authorities responded to each of Howells’ requests with a denial.
“We have legal obligations to fulfill in managing the landfill,” said a spokesperson.
“This includes managing the ecological risk to the site and surrounding areas. Mr Howells’ proposals pose significant ecological risk which we cannot accept and which, due to the conditions of the landfill management permit , is not even necessary.”