Coastal Residents Hope Amazon Avoids Facebook’s Mistakes With a New Trans-Pacific Cable

The Seattle giant wants to connect Oregon to Singapore via the seafloor.

Amazon Web Services, part of the Seattle tech giant, wants to land a trans-Pacific telecommunications cable in the tiny Tillamook County hamlet of Cloverdale (pop. 146).

Records show Amazon obtained a permit in May from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to conduct an initial survey of the beach there. (The parks department regulates all Oregon beaches, which belong to the public.)

Amazon appears to be treading lightly, after a highly publicized screw-up by a Facebook subsidiary in 2020 (“The Facebook Coast,” WW, Aug. 19, 2020). In that instance, a drilling accident at Tierra Del Mar, also in Tillamook County, initially left 1,100 feet of drill pipe, 6,500 gallons of drilling lubricant, and equipment marooned 50 feet under the seafloor.

That Facebook mishap on a pristine stretch of the Oregon Coast led state Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis) to pass a new law imposing legal and financial requirements on any company seeking to land a telecom cable on the coast.

Gomberg says he’s keeping an eye on Amazon. “Last time everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Gomberg says of the Facebook snafu. “This time, [Amazon] seems to be starting out on better footing.”

One of the Tierra Del Mar homeowners who led the fight to get Facebook to clean up its mess, Lynnae Ruttledge, was on hand at a June 27 open house in Pacific City where Amazon presented its plans to area residents.

Here’s what she and others learned:

What exactly does Amazon want to do? The tech giant wants to run a cable on the seafloor from Singapore to Grover City, Calif., a distance of 9,400 miles. It will run a branch off that line under the beach off Cloverdale to a landing spot on Highway 101. The company says it wants to connect its largest region on the West Coast to its second-largest region in Asia to expand high-speed internet capacity.

What’s different from the Facebook project? Ruttledge and other Tierra Del Mar neighbors says Facebook blindsided them in 2020 with its plan to land its cable smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood (on a vacant lot its subsidiary bought from former Oregon Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington). They also claim the social media giant operated in secrecy and covered up its drilling accident. Along with the June 27 open house, Amazon circulated an FAQ document and brought sandwiches, cookies and a team of experts to answer questions. Most importantly, rather than bringing the cable into a residential neighborhood, Amazon has cut a deal with the Wi-Ne-Ma Christian Camp to come ashore on the camp’s private property at least 500 feet from the nearest house.

What’s in it for the locals? Ruttledge says she’ll press for Amazon or the church camp, which is normally tax exempt, to pay taxes on the new equipment. Whether that happens or not, Gomberg says a tangible benefit will be to increase internet and cell service along the cable’s route to Hillsboro, Highway 6, which is currently a dead zone.

What happens next? Amazon will apply for permits from the Department of State Lands, the state parks and Tillamook County. If it gets those, the company hopes to drill under the offshore seafloor and beach starting in mid-2023.

In a statement, Amazon pledged to minimize its impact on the coast and communicate openly and regularly with community members and others.

“This project is a culmination of extensive planning, preparation and technical expertise,” the company said. “We will continue to work closely with local, state, and federal agencies to follow the appropriate steps for the landing site and stay engaged with the community on our approach.”