Facebook’s Oregon cable project alienated its neighbors and led to new regulations being passed

Facebook’s drilling site disrupted an entire neighborhood in Tierra Del Mar.

Edge Cable crews smashed into rock while drilling down about 500 feet offshore, resulting in 1,110 feet of broken pipe as well as drilling machinery being abandoned nearly 50 feet under the seabed. Facebook only disclosed the mishap after a resident flagged the problem to the Oregon Department of State Lands (ODSL) nearly two months later. Facebook was ultimately forced to pay $250,000 to ODSL for breach of contract.

Even before Facebook began its ambitious project to lay down 8,500 feet of fiber optic cable, the company faced pushback from concerned Oregonians, including its neighbors in Tierra Del Mar. The small, coastal town played host to Edge Cable’s drilling site located in a residential neighborhood mere steps from the beach. Nonprofits like the Oregon Coast Alliance slammed Facebook’s many missteps. Tierra Del Mar resident Marie Cook, whose house is right next to the drilling site, called Facebook’s plan “unethical.”

There are 365 miles of coastline in Oregon,” Cook said in an interview with Oregon alternative weekly Willamette Week. “And yet they come here and put this thing that has no benefit for our community right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

Not everyone opposed Facebook’s plan. The Oregon Fishermen’s Cable Committee worked alongside the social media giant to help move the project forward and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars patrolling the area where Edge Cable was laying down fiber optic lines.

The politicians who OK’d the project also profited from Facebook. Willamette Week reported that as of last year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has received $12,500 from Facebook and the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, since 2016. State Treasurer Tobias Read has received $38,900 from Facebook and Sandberg since 2008. Read was the one who suggested that the land board sign off on Facebook’s permit for its Edge Cable project in June 2019; Brown seconded that motion.

It was Brown who first tried to entice tech companies to “come ashore” in Oregon in the first place, according to a letter she sent to attendees of the 2018 Pacific Communications Conference. Since then, local leaders appear to have fallen in line with that welcoming messaging, noted Oregon Coast Alliance Executive Director Cameron La Follette.

“The Facebook cable made it clear that coastal communities are vulnerable to being targeted as the siting location of a cable, as Tierra del Mar was—if the local jurisdiction grants the land use permit, as Tillamook County did in this instance,” La Follette told Daily Kos. “Industrial activity in the midst of a residential area is extremely disruptive and damaging; it should never have been permitted, and should not be again.”

Lawmakers have yet to put the kibosh on projects like Facebook’s Edge Cable, but they have passed legislation tightening restrictions on such endeavors. HB 2603, which was signed into law in July, “requires owners or operators of undersea cables to obtain financial assurances for installation and removal of cable and create plan for removal of cable.”

La Follette praised the law, which she said will “require much more specific planning, as well as requirements for cable removal and funds for restoration and/or cleanup in the case of accidents.”

Facebook, for its part, has continued to invest in Oregon. The company’s Prineville data center, which opened its doors in 2009, is its largest in the U.S. and is in the process of being expanded. Facebook sweetened its latest expansion deal by creating a $60,000 grant for K-12 robotics classes in Crook County public schools, earning it praise from local officials. Extensive tax breaks have kept Facebook interested in Prineville. According to The Oregonian, Facebook saved nearly $130 million thanks to local tax breaks from 2012 to 2020.

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