A British man is, once again, pleading with his local city council to let him excavate a landfill for a key that he says will allow him to finally access a long-lost nine-figure digital fortune.
James Howells, 35, has offered tens of millions of dollars to the city council in Newport, Wales, if he gets permission to excavate and if he manages to find the hard drive he tossed out in 2013, reports CNBC. That hard drive, says Howells, contains the only copy of the cryptographic key that will let him access his 7,500 Bitcoin trove, which currently holds an estimated value of $280 million.
Should Howell recover the hard drive, the city would receive 25% of the value of the Bitcoin — roughly $70 million at current prices.
“There is a good chance the platter inside the drive is still intact,” said Howells, who cannot excavate the landfill without authorization. “Data recovery experts could then rebuild the drive or read the data directly from the platter.”
The city council, however, hasn’t budged on its answer and says it doesn’t even have the authority to let him excavate for his long-lost crypto key.
“The council has told Mr Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licencing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area,” the council spokesperson told CNBC.
“The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds — without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order,” said the spokesperson.
Howells told CNN that his plan would be to “dig a specific area of the landfill based on a grid reference system and recover the hard drive whilst adhering to all safety and environmental standards.” He believes that the city council hasn’t been listening to him or his plan, which he says also involves receiving financial backing from an unspecified hedge fund that has promised to help him.
“Without even having heard our plan of action or without being given a chance to present our mitigations to their concerns regarding the environment, it’s just a straight up ‘no’ every time,” said Howells, reports CNBC.
According to estimates from Forbes, a handful of cryptocurrency pioneers currently have a net worth exceeding $1 billion solely from their cryptocurrency investments. Others, while not Bitcoin billionaires, still have amassed cryptocurrency fortunes worth millions or even hundreds of millions.
But there are also millions of Bitcoin that appear to have been lost or otherwise inaccessible to their owners. The New York Times reports that, of the 18.5 million Bitcoin in existence, about 20% of them appear inaccessible. Currently, Bitcoin trades at $36,084, meaning the world’s lost Bitcoin is valued at over $130 billion.
One man, Stephan Thomas, told The New York Times in an interview that he only has two guesses left to figure out the password he needs to access his Bitcoin trove. If those two guesses fail, Thomas will be locked out of the encrypted hard drive containing his cryptographic key, and his Bitcoin, currently valued at $220 million, will be encrypted forever.
He’s since moved the hard drive to a secure facility at an undisclosed location — out of sight, out of mind — just in case a new method of cracking his hard drive’s long-lost password becomes available one day.
“I got to a point where I said to myself, ‘Let it be in the past, just for your own mental health,’” Thomas told the Times.