Telecommunication fiber optic cables, power transmission cables, and pipelines are all examples of undersea infrastructure. These are physical assets that are placed on, affixed to, or buried under the seafloor.
Undersea cables, also known as “subsea” or “submarine” cables”, are long cables that lie on the ocean floor and serve different purposes. Some undersea cables are a network of optical fibers carrying data around the world, while other cables may carry electricity from offshore wind turbines to land.
DSL is one of several State agencies with a regulatory role in undersea infrastructure projects in Oregon.
Our Role in Oregon's Undersea Infrastructure
The State Land Board, and DSL as the Land Board’s administrative agency, have jurisdiction over the submerged and submersible land of the territorial sea. This includes:
Reviewing and authorizing easements for all uses of the seafloor, including placement of fiber optic and power cables, pipelines, and fixtures; installation of wave and wind energy devices and research equipment; and exploration of minerals.
Administering Oregon’s removal-fill law which governs the removal, fill and alteration of sediments, rock and other materials comprising the submerged and submersible land underlying the territorial sea.
- Conducting a pre-application meeting and coordinating the review of applications for easements and permits in Oregon’s territorial sea in consultation with the Joint Agency Review Team. This requirement is pending rulemaking to adopt Territorial Sea Plan: Part IV.
Most undersea infastructure projects require both an easement and a removal-fill permit from DSL.
Current and Recent Projects
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In November 2022, AMCS LLC, an affiliate of Amazon Web Services, applied for a territorial sea cable easement and a removal-fill permit for the Bifrost undersea fiber optic telecommunication cable in Tillamook County near Cloverdale.
The temporary 20-year term easement was approved by the State Land Board in August 2023.
The Bifrost cable will cross the Pacific Ocean connecting Singapore, Guam, and the west coast of the United States, landing in Cloverdale, Oregon. For the Oregon landing, the cable would be buried in the seafloor on the continental shelf and land at the Wi-Ne-Ma Christian Camp via horizontally directional drilled bore pipe. Upon landing, the cable would be fed through a new upland beach manhole transitioning to a new 235-foot terrestrial conduit build to attach to a newly constructed terrestrial cable conduit on Wi Ne Ma Rd (constructed in an effort separate from this project). An ocean ground bed of four to six rods would be buried adjacent the beach manhole to ground the cable system. See a map of the proposed route here.
The applicant has obtained a required OPRD Ocean Shore Alteration Permit, Tillamook County Floodplain Development Permit and Conditional Use Approval, as well as a Department of Environmental Quality 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) for this project. A Removal-Fill permit from the Department is also required and was issued in June 2023.
How Does the Process Work?
Before submitting their application for an easement or a permit in the state territorial sea, applicants meet with DSL staff to discuss:
- The proposed project location in relation to waters of the state (including wetland delineation results).
- Permit exemptions that may apply, and type of permit that may be required. If a removal-fill permit is required, the purpose and need of the removal-fill activity, the range of alternatives, and proposed compensatory mitigation may be discussed.
- Applicants are encouraged to meet with community members, industry, and ocean user groups to discuss use conflicts and other issues related to undersea cable installment.
- DSL also encourages applicants to meet with other State regulatory agencies to discuss permitting requirements or relevant regulations.
- After Spring 2024, DSL will organize a Joint Agency Review Team pre-application meeting under the Territorial Sea Plan: Part IV
Learn more about waterway authorizations (including, in the territorial sea) and removal-fill permits here.
When an application for either an easement and/or a removal-fill permit is submitted, DSL first reviews the application(s) for completeness.
Applications determined to be complete are circulated for public review and comment. DSL staff then reviews comments submitted and may request additional information from the applicant or require modifications.
After Spring 2024, DSL may also convene the Joint Agency Review Team for the application meeting and for follow-up meetings in order to facilitate the coordination of state and federal agencies, and local jurisdictions, as they apply their separate regulatory, proprietary, or other authorities to the review of a proposed project within the state territorial sea.
Finally, DSL staff develop a recommendation and findings for the easement and removal-fill permit, and the Program Manager conducts a final review on whether to approve or deny them.Fi nally, DSL staff develop a recommendation and findings for the removal-fill permit, and the program Manager conducts a final review whether to approve or deny the removal-fill permit. DSL also develops a recommendation to the Land Board regarding the easement, and the Land Board decides whether to approve or deny the easement.
The Department of State Lands oversees the approvals of easements and removal-fill permits for undersea infrastructure projects in Oregon’s territorial sea.
However, there are several other approvals that are required for the overall project, for example:
- Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD): The ocean shore from the vegetated ocean shore edge to the extreme low tide elevation is managed by OPRD. An ocean shore alteration permit is also required from OPRD, and that permitting process includes a public review and comment opportunity.
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ): Projects may require a Nationwide 401 Water Quality Certification.
- Department of Land and Conservation Development (DLCD): The activity occurs within the Coastal Management Zone (CMZ), and DLCD reviews the project for federal consistency.
- Local county and/or city government approval is required for any proposed activities in upland areas above the beach vegetation line. For example, the installation of the cable between the vegetation line and a landing site.
Oregon's territorial sea is a 3-mile wide strip of ocean under state jurisdiction that reaches from the shoreline out to sea. This area and the resources within it are managed by state and federal agencies in trust for the public. First adopted in 1994, the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan outlines goals and policies that provide a coordination framework and agency guide to managing resources within the territorial sea.
Since its adoption, the plan has been updated as new needs evolve for the use of the ocean. Needs such as installing Sensor Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables and marine renewable energy development. The Ocean Policy Advisory Council acts as the steward of the plan, alongside Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).
In November 2023, DLCD Commission approved the amendment to the Territorial Sea Plan Part IV. An updated Part IV provides a strategic framework for the decision-making process, partnerships, and collaborative relationships for undersea infrastructure, including cables, pipelines, and other utilities or fixtures.
The Territorial Sea Plan Part IV proposed revisions include:
- Establishing the Joint Agency Review Team coordinated by DSL to facilitate communication and collaboration between state agencies and other stakeholders in the early stages of the project planning and permitting process.
- Considering undersea cables, pipelines, and other utilities as part of critical infrastructure that is subject to physical threats and natural disasters.
- Requiring the Resource and Use Inventory and Effects Evaluation from the applicants for environmental protection and mitigation measures.
- Requiring undersea infrastructure decommissioning at the end of the operational life cycle and seabed recovery to maintain the long-term protection of marine ecosystems, preservation of their ecological functions, and economic and social services.
The new Territorial Sea Plan Part IV is currently undergoing a rulemaking process by DLCD. Territorial Sea Plan Part IV (2023) is expected to take effect in Spring 2024.