Oregon Coast Alliance Newsletter
Facebook Drilling Disaster, Clatsop County Mainline Project and Other News
Facebook/Edge Cable Tells Agencies What Really Happened with the Submarine Cable Project - Finally

Edge Cable Equipment for Submarine Cable in Tierra del Mar, March 2020. Courtesy Ed Ruttledge
On Friday, July 24, Oregon Coast Alliance and other members of the interested public got an email from the Parks and Recreation Department and the Department of State Lands stating that there was much more to the Facebook/Edge Cable drilling accident this spring than we suspected. 

Tillamook County and state agencies in January 2020 gave Facebook/Edge Cable permission to drill a submarine cable and land it in a residential lot in Tierra del Mar. The county specified all work had to be done by May 1st. But drilling stopped in late April, and just a few days later, Facebook notified the County that there had been a drilling accident on April 28th. They requested permission to shut down the project for nine months, and return in January 2021 to complete it. Inexplicably, Tillamook County agreed to this plan. 

Now the public learns that nearly two months later, on June 17, Facebook/Edge Cable notified the state agencies that it was more than  just  a drilling accident. The drill pipe snapped while they were laying the cable between 40-69 feet under the ocean floor. The contractor abandoned a large amount of drill equipment in the borehole, including 1,100 feet of drill pipe, a drill tip, gyro module, steering tool and 6,500 gallons of drilling  fluid encased  in the drilling prism. The agencies also disclosed that "Delay in notification eliminated any potential options for recovery of the equipment."

This is astounding, horrifying news. We now have major amounts of apparently unrecoverable drilling trash under the seafloor just off the Oregon coast, including thousands of gallons of bore gel. The agencies do not know exactly what to do in this situation, but Facebook/Edge does:  they want  to come back and complete the project in January 2021! The Parks Department sent Edge a letter in mid-July requiring the company to submit a hazards analysis of the impacts of leaving the drill trash and bore hole under the seafloor. Parks also said the existing permit remains valid, if the Department of State Lands permit remains valid.

The big player is State Lands, who issued both an easement and a removal/fill permit for the project. DSL is currently evaluating their options, so we do not know what they plan to do. 

The most troublesome aspect of this disaster is that the state seems not to have a clear pathway to force Facebook/Edge to remove the drilling trash in an environmentally sound  way,  nor to revoke the permits due to complete failure on the company's part to report the details of the disaster in a timely manner. Facebook  should be  assessed a major fine to cover all the state's costs in dealing with this ugly fiasco. The state of Oregon has thus far been excessively welcoming to submarine cable companies. It is past time for Oregon to put strict siting standards, bonding authority and fine schedules in place for submarine cable operations, so this never happens again.
The Clatsop County Mainline Project: Big, Questionable and Out for Public Comment

Proposed Clatsop County Public Works and Mainline Acquisitions. Courtesy Clatsop County
Clatsop County Public Works has wanted for some time to move from its cramped quarters in Astoria to a larger place,  slightly  more centrally located in the county. Quietly, the county secured Letters of Interest on several possible properties. If the entire project comes to pass, it  would change  rural Clatsop County just east of the coastal zone  from Astoria to Seasid e, and leave the way open for more rural development in the hills. 

The county has a Letter of Interest on 51 acres of the Lewis & Clark Sorting Yard off Fort Clatsop Road. It is centrally located, and thus attractive for a new Public Works site. The county also obtained a letter of interest on 30-acre Crown Camp, in the hills above Seaside, which they describe as useful for a combined rock stockpile, construction equipment storage area, supply stockpiling site and - most questionable of all - a police firing range. In addition, the county acquired LOIs for two portions of the Lewis and Clark Mainline  (an existing, privately-owned gravel logging road)  for future use in the case of a catastrophic event: one 2.5 miles long, and another five miles long. The county plans the Mainline to be "an alternate route in the interim which will provide access to south County."

The   timeline for this complex project,  which depends on funding, would focus first on relocating Public Works, probably taking 3-4 years. Then would come constructing the roadway of the Mainline  to County specifications:  asphalt lanes, multi-use paths to the side and gravel shoulders, for a paved surface width of 34 feet.

This is a very big project, which would irrevocably change the hills east of the coastal zone, especially  upgrading  the Mainline  for public use.  Is it all necessary? Is it  helpful to county residents  to  have  more  public  roads  in the hills,  which are both steep  and zoned for timber use?   Does the county really need Crown Camp?  The county is beginning its public participation process in August. The first informational meeting will be on August 13th, and the county is circulating questionnaires to residents as well. Further information is  here .
Short Term Rental Tensions in Rural Lincoln County

Lincoln County has more vacation homes than any other coastal  county, according  to US Census data: 8,244 of them, to be precise. Second highest is Tillamook, with a little more than 7,000.  Some of these are second homes, but many are the so-called short term rentals (STRs), rented on a rotating basis, usually for only a few days at a time, to vacationers.  The large number of these short term rentals in rural Lincoln County is causing both tension and trouble. The tensions are due to conflicts between some rental operations and neighbors, who complain of noise, traffic and garbage concerns. There is also the neighborhood disruption that comes with nearly constant turnover of guests, especially in summer. But the underlying question is whether STRs should be allowed in residential zones at all, since they are commercial enterprises. Many coastal towns face the same question.

But in rural areas, there  is an additional issue  not usually faced by towns: the septic problem. Lincoln County has some 600 licensed STRs in the unincorporated rural areas, and there are possibly more  that  are unlicensed. The problem is that the houses being used as STRs are often  old, with small septic systems.  But now they are being used for double or triple the intended number of occupants, and severely stressing septic capacity. 

Lincoln County Board of Commissioners is considering lowering occupancy rates for STRs to bring them in line with septic capacity. The county hired a code enforcement officer whose sole responsibility is dealing with STR issues, and software to better  track licensing , contact information and complaints. The county  also  froze issuance of new STR licenses until the end of September. Meantime, a group of residents is considering an initiative petition to deal with these problems and make quicker headway than the slower process via the Board of Commissioners.

Many communities, rural and urban, on the coast are struggling with the influx of short term rentals, which are often owned by outsiders, and frequently purchased as investment  properties. Capping  the number allowed, restricting them from residential zones, reducing occupancy rates and similar measures, are all on the table in many parts of the coast. Rural Lincoln County has a more intensive struggle than many places because its STR numbers  are high, and the septic problems frequent.
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