First we had the mystery about why Google was building floating structures on a set of barges based in San Francisco and Portland, before Google finally revealed that they were to become “interactive spaces where people can learn about new technology.”

Then we had the equally mysterious apparent cancellation of the project, with one of the barges sold for scrap and another sitting unused on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The WSJ used Freedom of Information Act requests to get hold of documents which seem to provide an explanation: email correspondence suggests that Google was unable to satisfy the Coast Guard’s fire-safety concerns.

“These vessels will have over 5,000 gallons of fuel on the main deck and a substantial amount of combustible material on board,” warned Robert Gauvin, the Coast Guard’s acting chief of commercial vessel compliance, in a March 27, 2013 email to the contractor, Foss Maritime Co.

Google argued that the barges would have no more than 150 people on board at any one time, despite estimating a total of 1200 visitors a day, but the Coast Guard was unimpressed.

“I am unaware of any measures you plan to use to actually limit the number of passengers,” Mr. Gauvin wrote in the March 27 email about fire safety. He criticized the effort by Google and Foss to seek quick approvals. “While I understand there is a sense of urgency, I am concerned that significant work has already been performed without full consent of the Coast Guard.”

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