The Tillamook County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday, Jan. 9, 2-1 to uphold the Tillamook County Planning Commission’s similar use determination and decision to approve the installation of the Jupiter Cable System. This was the second hearing the board held to discuss an appeal requested by numerous citizens of Tierra Del Mar.
A three-hour meeting to discuss the cable system, 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.
Citizens of Tierra Del Mar are now exploring options for an appeal to Land Use Board of Appeals. They have been fighting this project for a year.
“The 2-1 vote by the Tillamook Board of Commissioners was a clear signal that the board is willing to put the commercial interests of one property owner above the livability, safety and character of the Tierra Del Mar community,” Lynnae Ruttledge, an appellant and citizen of Tierra Del Mar, said in a statement she provided to the Headlight Herald. “Without dispute, the decision by the board is precedent-setting.”
Lynnae said reflected in the written and oral testimony submitted throughout the process, the proposed project by Facebook/Edge Cable is ill-advised, inappropriate and unsuitable for a densely developed oceanfront residential lot.
“The Tierra Del Mar community is disheartened but undaunted,” Lynnae said. “In consultation with community partners, we are considering out options for a possible appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals.”
Lynnae said she and the other appellants wish to express their sincere thanks to Commissioner Mary Faith Bell for her thoughtful deliberations, well-reasoned decisions and clear respect for the concerns of the Tierra Del Mar community.
The fiber optic cable system and landing site would be on a property zoned rural residential two-acre, located within the Tierra Del Mar area north of the Pacific City/Woods unincorporated community and designated as Tax Lot 3200.
There were four appellants: Lynnae Ruttledge, Edmund Ruttledge, Oregon Coast Alliance and Michael Kittell.
The Jan. 9 hearing began with closing statements from the applicant, appellants and staff before the commission deliberated. Phil Grillo of Davis Wright Tremaine, along with other members who spoke, addressed alleged procedural errors citizens felt the planning commission made in their decision to approve the installation. Grillo also said this proposal is about a relatively small zone.
“This is not of full county-wide significance,” Grillo said.
Citizens and Commissioner Bell later said this is an issue of county-wide significance.
Chair David Yamamoto said the commission needed to hear both sides of the list of conditions for approval; both the conditions from the planning commission and the ones Attorney Michael Kittell provided.
“It is premature to talk about any of the conditions until you have decided whether or not this application meets the criteria,” Lynnae said at the hearing.
Lynnae said she was struck by several things during the discussion at the hearing. One of these things was that Grillo said the rigs would have to be turned on during the weekends so the hole does not implode. According to Lynnae, the acoustical report specifically stated that work would be done Monday through Friday.
“The goal posts continue to change,” Lynnae said.
Lynnae said the project is inappropriate and the people who live in Tierra Del Mar will be impacted regardless if the construction is done during winter or higher tourism seasons.
“There is no discussion in any of those conditions that states that we are a stakeholder,” Lynnae said.
Jeff Bryner, citizen of Tierra Del Mar, said the citizens had no say about the conditions and said there needs to be a condition regarding property damage caused by the construction.
Sarah Absher, director of community development, added the following condition: “Prior to the start of construction, a monitoring maintenance and damage response plan will be submitted to the department and available for community inspection at least seven days prior to the start of construction.”
Commissioner Bell asked if it could be made to 14 days. The commission agreed. Date slots agreed upon for construction were from Jan. 1 to March 15 and April 7-30. Construction would be for 30 days.
The appeal was denied by a 2-1 vote. If the decision is appealed, it will move to Land Use Board of Appeals in Salem.