Oregon Coast Alliance Newsletter

  Ulbricht in Wheeler and Facebook Sinkholes

Ulbricht Project Returns to Wheeler

The Facebook Cable in Tierra del Mar Causes More Sinkholes on the Beach

The Roberts in Cannon Beach Get A Small Permit
Ulbricht Project Returns to Wheeler
Wheeler Docks and Nehalem Bay. Courtesy City of Wheeler
Ken Ulbricht, who owns a large vacant property at the north end of Wheeler bordering Nehalem Bay, has returned to town with a very similar project to the one before. Last year, Ulbricht proposed a project consisting of a fish processing plant and restaurant, and a hotel. City Council approved it, but the Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the approval to the city, pointing out that the city had not adequately justified the project under the its mandatory Vision Plan, which requires all proposed development to meet goals for maintaining livability and small town character. At a remand hearing in May, Council declined to reinstate the project. 

But that was not the end of it. Ulbricht appealed Council decision back to LUBA, where his lawsuit is now underway. At the same time, he submitted another application to the City of Wheeler, this time for a fish processing warehouse and shellfish retail outlet. This new proposal has had one hearing before Wheeler Planning Commission. The final vote will be October 7th. 

There are many problems with the application, ranging from failure to provide accurate site plans to failure to include any accurate information on key issues such as water use, wastewater management, stormwater management and water treatment facilities. All are highly pertinent to a fish processing operation. But the most glaring issue is that the application is being processed as an outright use, in an effort to avoid having to justify the project under much stricter conditional use standards, the Vision Plan or ordinances relating to geological stability — important in this instance because the land is old fill. Thus, the only items being considered are the minor issues that arise under the design review process. 

It is a travesty to hurry a major project through that would greatly impact Nehalem Bay waterfront and Wheeler’s livability, as many residents of the town have testified. However, ORCA continues to press for a more thorough review, especially as the environmental effects of this project would be major but have not been laid out, much less considered by decision-makers.
The Facebook Cable in Tierra del Mar Causes More Sinkholes on the Beach
New Sinkhole on the Beach in Front of the Facebook Project, September 28, 2021. Photo courtesy of Ed Ruttledge
The Facebook submarine cable project has been a nightmare and a disaster from the beginning to the present. The emerging problem? New sinkholes appearing on the beach just in front of the Facebook drilling lot.

This summer Facebook wrote soothing emails to the Tierra del Mar community, assuring them that the undersea cable that has bedeviled the community for more than two years was on the road to completion. Finally, on September 27, Facebook wrote, "During the week of September 13th, the crew successfully pulled the Jupiter Subsea Cable through to the beach manhole and connected it to the network. With the final phase of work completed, the construction crew has demobilized from Lot 3200. The landscapers have returned to restore the site. In September, they will replant the native plants that were temporarily relocated and add irrigation to cover the newly landscaped areas.”

State and county decision-makers uniformly supported the project from the beginning, except for Tillamook County Commissioner Mary Faith Bell, who voted against such an industrial project in a residential neighborhood. Undoubtedly all the agency personnel from Tillamook County, the Department of State Lands and Parks Department drew a great breath of relief that the project was over at last that had problem after problem, culminating in a drill accident that left a large pile of industrial trash entombed forever under the seafloor. 

But not so fast. Just in the last couple of days new sinkholes have developed on the beach directly west of the Facebook drilling site in Tierra del Mar. The most westward is (at the moment) quite small, measuring about 12 x 12 inches. But then further east, closer to the Facebook lot, another deeper sinkhole opened up, this one about 32 inches deep. It made its presence known when a local resident sank into sand which appeared to be a normal beach. The Parks Department quickly filled both sinkholes in. Clearly this is a serious and unpredictable problem. Sinkholes that appeared in April were measured, probed, studied, and pronounced solved. But the new sinkholes prove that something is very wrong with the cable, its conduit and the beach. Apparently the problem is longterm, and nobody knows what will happen next. This should be a warning for all future submarine cable projects in Oregon. When will decision-makers learn to get serious about regulating these proposals?
The Roberts in Cannon Beach Get A Small Permit
Roberts House, as Rendered by Applicant. October 2020. Courtesy City of Cannon Beach
The Roberts have desired to build a house in Cannon Beach on their lot, but have refused to follow the oceanfront setback requirements. Denied by the city and turned down by LUBA, they appealed to the Court of Appeals, where the case awaits a ruling. But meantime, they also applied to the city for a driveway, a small house and a stabilization beam, each via a separate application. Recently the city granted an administrative permit for the stabilization beam and micropiles.

The approval is very narrowly structured, making it clear that this is not an early-stage approval for a house or any other building — neither the denial for a house the Roberts have on appeal, nor any other proposal, whether for a driveway or smaller structure. The permit states, “This approval does not affect any other pending or future permits for other development…As it is the applicant’s decision to seek these permits separately, each permit application will be reviewed and decided on its own merits."