Tierra Del Mar residents met with public officials and Facebook representatives earlier this month to discuss a proposed landing for a submarine cable. At issue was an application for a conditional use permit to land submarine fiber optic cable on an oceanfront residential lot at 28560 Sandlake Road.
The three-hour meeting, held at the Kiawanda Community Center on Aug. 11, was attended by State Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and State Rep. David Gomberg, D- Otis as well as six representatives of Facebook and its subsidiary Edge Cable Holdings.
The proposed SubCom Jupiter cable would connect to a high-capacity transpacific system with international reach, reportedly owned by Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and others. Facebook representatives said the proposed project in Tierra Del Mar would support services used around the globe, including Indonesia, India, Japan, Hong Kong and other surrounding areas.
It’s the social media company’s position that despite its residential development classification, lot 3200 is more desirable than others that were scouted and found lacking due to clearance, erosion or wetlands concerns. Facebook bought the property in October of this past year.
Four existing submarine cables in Pacific City came up during the discussion. Facebook representatives said that landing is fully occupied and cannot fit a fifth cable because of congestion and fewer options for cable burial, making it a high-risk proposition.
“The big part of the reason to come to Pacific City is that there are highly available and high-quality fiber optic routes that connect on the land side from this area that go back to Hillsboro, Portland, and once you hit Portland, you can go south to Seattle,” said Jon Hudson, network investment manager of Facebook/Edge Cable. “You can go east to Boise and Salt Lake City. You can go south to Eugene to San Francisco, Los Angeles. You can get up to a larger internet ecosystem.”
Facebook worked with the Oregon Fishermen’s Cable Committee (OFCC) on finding the right location. At lot 3200, they found less risk of having nets get stuck on cables. Telecommunications also have less risk of interruption. It was noted that fish habitats are restricted from cables installation as federally protected areas.
“When we looked at putting the cable with the existing four cables, there were concerns offshore,” Hudson said, adding that the cables are in squiggly lines, avoiding areas such as exposed rock. “You can’t bury the cable because you don’t have anywhere to do so,” Hudson said. “If your cable is laying against this hard rock, you’re at a risk of a shift, causing the cable to snap.”
OFCC said it didn’t find many routes, and what it did find crossed with other existing cables. When route options near the existing cable sites failed to emerge, alternative routes became the next best bet. OFCC looked south at a state park that crossed other existing cables and a fish habitat.
Looking north at a public beach, Facebook found that because of equipment weights, having to restrict beach access, and the logistics of getting trucks onto the beach, there was too much of a conflict, so it was ruled it out. An eastside Sand Lake property also was considered but was too steep and too close to the water.
“That’s really how we ended up in Tierra Del Mar,” Hudson said.
The cable would lay three feet into the ground. Facebook used a survey vessel to map the seabed, aiming to avoid ridges where possible and possibly using a plow if necessary during the construction process.
A horizontal directional drill would be used to install bore pipes from a beach manhole at lot 3200, running a little more than a half-mile offshore in water depths of 30 feet. The bore pipe would initially facilitate the direct landing of the Jupiter cable from a cable ship to the manhole without trenching the beach, burying the cable through surf zone, using articulated pipe or pinning of the cable to the seabed.
Some Tierra Del Mar residents have said that they do not support the project and have accused the social media company of being less than forthcoming about its intentions, some even claiming the project has been carried forward secretly.
Facebook representatives said the permit application was just completed in June or July. Prior public meetings were held in February and March at the state level. The company also said it would be notifying whoever pays property taxes for homes adjacent to the lot. Hudson said he takes the blame for not notifying the public earlier.
Residents have also expressed concerns regarding the installation of additional cables if the proposed Tierra Del Mar project is approved. Hudson said the company has no intention of doing so, noting that Facebook’s goal is connecting people around the world.
One person questioned dealings between the OFCC and Facebook, and another person noted that Hudson is an OFCC member. Hudson said the OFCC could outvote cable optic voters, adding that Facebook pays dues to the OFCC and runs a hotline for it, equivalent to a 911 number. He said the OFCC helps Facebook determine cable installation sites. Facebook shares information with the OFCC and relieves them of liability.
Before construction, SubCom said it wants to engage the adjacent lot owners for home and asset inspection to understand the layout of any underground assets and the condition of the property.
Asked if there is any legislation to block the installation of cables on private land, Gomberg said no. The lawmaker said he learned about the proposal late in the legislative session. Gomberg also said it would be an uphill battle to pass state legislation on the matter.
“Facebook has followed the letter of the law, but hasn’t been a good neighbor,” Gomberg said.
Phil Grillo, local land use counsel at law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, asked whom at Facebook the citizens could call if they have questions or concerns. Stephen Uy gave his phone number, mentioning programs and services that could give back to the community that similar areas have implemented.
“We don’t want the business in our neighborhood,” a citizen responded.
Uy asked the audience if they wanted better phone service in the area. He spoke about provisions for universal service. Only a few people raised their hands. One person said many, if not all, in the area don’t have cell service or a landline. Another person said they had investigated a possible cell tower for the town and found that the tower would be outside of Tierra Del Mar.
Responding to community concerns about a lack of notice regarding the project, Uy conceded that Facebook could have notified the community earlier, but said it is not uncommon for citizens to learn of a proposal just a few weeks before it goes into effect. He said that the company could send information earlier next time, claiming that complications slowed notification of the community meeting.
Facebook representatives said they spoke with people in Florence about the project and residents there had wanted to have a cable in their backyard. “They can have ours,” a Tierra Del Mar resident said.
A major concern for Tierra Del Mar residents is the noise from the proposed construction project. Mark Bastasch, principal acoustical engineer at Jacobs Engineering, said the noise curtain would be around 10-15 feet tall and could go up to 20 feet. He said the noise level would be 68 decibels at a distance of 28 feet. There could be a 10 decibel decrease by using sound proofing materials.
Bastasch deployed a machine to monitor the room’s decibel levels during a break. Conversation in the room was around 70 decibels, a little louder than the construction is speculated to be. A citizen pointed out that Sydney Sheridan, permitting manager of SubCom, originally said the noise curtain would be around 87 decibels.
Bastasch said his numbers are approximate and not exact, noting that modern machines produce around 89 decibels at the source, but at a distance of 20 feet, the noise level would be around 68 decibels, which is equivalent to the noise level of a domestic vacuum cleaner. Sound barriers and curtains would be added to the fencing surrounding the work-site, further reducing the noise during drilling operations.
Responding to concerns about damage to infrastructure such as septic systems potentially caused by construction vibrations, an engineer said there was no indication that such an issue would arise. It was noted that roads would not be blocked for the construction, though an excavator would be delivered and removed from site as part of the installation. Residents will be given a local phone number to contact regarding project concerns.
A citizen asked for a deed restriction stating that Facebook would not drill at the location again. Facebook representatives said they would not, adding there is no plan to sell the property in the future.
The project would require multiple pieces of heavy equipment, noted in a list that was said to be available for citizens. Project workers would stay at a nearby hotel and would not be parking at or near the site. Construction is slated for after the holidays and expected to take 15-30 days, with work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Doug Spiro, landscape restoration at Spiro Landscapes, said the proposed site is a difficult one, though there are more difficult sites that have been done.
There would be temporary lane closures on Sandlake Road. One lane would be kept open and flaggers would conduct traffic control. In the event of an emergency, they will leave the road empty, so traffic can pass through.
A county planning commission hearing where the proposal will be accepted or denied is set for Sept. 5. Following the hearing, Facebook representatives hope to meet again with the citizens of Tierra Del Mar in October or November.