Facebook Extends Effort to Connect Trans-Pacific Cable to Tierra del Mar, Enraging Residents

The social media giant’s project, bedeviled by drilling challenges, continues to disrupt sleepy a Tillamook County hamlet.

Facebook couldn't finish connecting a trans-Pacific telecommunications cable before a key permit was set to expire.

The company ran smack into a state-imposed March 26 deadline as it sought to connect the cable to on-shore facilities on a residential lot it owns in Tierra del Mar.

The social media giant originally hoped to finish the project last spring, but its effort to drill a horizontal shaft to a "punch-out" spot half a mile offshore met with failure.

Facebook's contractor belatedly told state permitting agencies it had left 1,100 feet of drill pipe, 6,500 gallons of lubricating fluid, and a broken drill bit under the seafloor.

Related: Mark Zuckerberg Is Despoiling a Tiny Coastal Village and Oregon's Natural Treasures. The State Invited Him.

After starting work again this year, Facebook's contractor realized earlier this month that it was unlikely it could finish pulling the cable through the newly completed horizontal undersea casing before the company's state permit expired.

So, on March 4, the company asked the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department to extend the company's permit by a year.

Lynnae Ruttledge is a Tierra del Mar resident who has led opposition to the Facebook project, which she and other critics say is noisy, intrusive and never should have been permitted in a residential neighborhood. Ruttledge says the company did not inform residents it was seeking a permit extension. Instead, she learned about it from the state.

On March 10, the Parks Department granted a one-year permit extension, as a peumatic hammer pounded away in Tierra del Mar, removing drilling casing from the horizontal shaft that had reached the punch-out spot where it would connect to the cable half a mile offshore. Here's what neighbors experienced:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD3C9Jj51-c

Ruttledge calls the state's decision to grant an extension "both outrageous and unacceptable."

Cameron La Follette, executive director of the Oregon Coastal Alliance, an environmental nonprofit, echoes that criticism.

"I am astonished that OPRD decided to grant an extension for a year on the Edge Cable permit," La Follette said. "That is not an appropriate action to take only by administrative review, with no public notice, no explanation to the public, not even posting on the website the criteria by which OPRD decides to make this decision."

La Follette's group has been highly critical of state officials for what she says is a failure to protect Oregon's natural resources.

"Simply granting a year's extension with no explanation at all is highly inappropriate in a situation like this one, where the agencies have bent over backward to allow this mismanaged project to continue, and are not holding the company accountable—all at the expense of the community and the marine environment," she added.

A Facebook spokesperson says the company has tried to make itself a good neighbor in Tierra del Mar, providing regular email updates and donating a $50,000 grant for broadband to Tillamook County schools; $35,000 to The Nature Conservancy (Oregon Chapter); $20,000 for a SOLVE Oregon Spring Cleanup; and $15,000 to the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership. The company also bought two generators for the Tierra del Mar community center and paid for tsunami signage.

Updated on March 18: The Nature Conservancy says it did not accept Facebook's money.

"The Nature Conservancy does not have a position on the telecommunications line in Tierra del Mar," Allie Gardner, a spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy tells WW. "Facebook offered to make an unsolicited donation to the Oregon chapter of The Nature Conservancy in November 2020. The Oregon chapter has not received the donation and has declined the opportunity."

Facebook says now that the drilling work to the punch-out point is done, what remains is restoration of the formerly vacant residential lot from which the hole was drilled and pulling the cable through the now-installed undersea conduit to shore.

In a March 15 email to residents, the company outlined that work.

"We have started to demobilize our drilling equipment from the site and hope to have that done by the end of this week prior to the start of Oregon's spring break week," the email said. "We will pause construction work from Tuesday, March 16, to Tuesday, April 6, as outlined in our construction permit. We will then recommence construction activities on Wednesday, April 7. Construction of the beach manhole and conduit facilities on [Facebook's residential lot] will continue through April 30."

As for pulling the cable from the punch-out spot to the landing site, that work requires boats and divers to be in place and so is weather dependent.