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Small OR Town in Big Fight Over Facebook's Undersea Cable Plans

The unincorporated town of Tierra del Mar, Ore., is so small it doesn't have fire hydrants. (Misserion/Flickr)
The unincorporated town of Tierra del Mar, Ore., is so small it doesn't have fire hydrants. (Misserion/Flickr)
January 14, 2020

TIERRA DEL MAR, Ore. -- Residents of a small, coastal Oregon town are continuing to fight Facebook's plan to install a landing spot for the tech giant's undersea cable.

Tierra del Mar is an unincorporated city in Tillamook County that is so small, it doesn't have cell-phone service or fire hydrants. Facebook's cable would help connect Asia to North America.

Cameron La Follette, executive director of the Oregon Coast Alliance, said Tierra del Mar is a rural, residential area, and Tillamook County ordinances allow land-use installations similar to a public utility.

"This is not similar to a public utility," La Follette said. "The citizens of Tillamook County are not going to benefit from this cable, Facebook has made that clear in their testimony. They just want to place the landing there because it's convenient."

The Tillamook County Board of Commissioners approved Facebook's plan last week in a vote of 2-1. La Follette said residents have 21 days to appeal the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company has engaged with the community over the past year and addressed concerns about noise, environmental impact and road closures. At the board of commissioners meeting, the company said drilling for the landing will last for about a month and all that will remain is a manhole cover.

La Follette said local residents are still concerned about the disturbance drilling will cause. She also noted there's a larger concern this could open the door for other companies that could pick a spot anywhere along the Oregon coast to land their undersea cables.

"Facebook or another submarine cable company could do the same thing elsewhere and cite as precedent, 'They let us do it in Tillamook County at Tierra del Mar,'" she said. "Everybody recognizes the precedential value of this very ugly decision."

La Follette said she also would like to see state lawmakers and the governor's office address this issue.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR