Fiber Optic Cable Installations and Subsequent Decommissioning Projects

In the rapidly developing world of telecommunications and data transmission, Padre has had the opportunity to support the full life cycle of several trans-Pacific cable projects. Initially efforts included preparation of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) related to the installation and operation, of the California offshore and inland segments of fiber optic cables from Southeast Asia to the United States (specifically San Luis Obispo County). Preparation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance documentation involved the review of applicant-provided data reports on the seafloor and onshore habitats, marine and terrestrial biological resources, cultural resources, and equipment/vessel emissions that Padre staff subsequently incorporated into the EIRs. Specific issues of concern included the potential impacts of the placement of the offshore portion of the buried fiber optic cables on commercial fishing, hardbottom biota, and cultural resources. Onshore concerns centered on vehicle access to existing buried conduits across streams and other sensitive terrestrial habitats.

In addition to completing the necessary environmental assessments, Padre provided compliance monitors which entailed biologists, cultural resource specialists, and other technical experts being on-site during the offshore cable laying/burial operations, and documentation of onshore impacts from vehicle access and conduit excavation. Padre marine scientists were also responsible for reviewing applicant-provided videotapes of the offshore cable laying operations and for reporting on the effects of those operations on seafloor habitats along the offshore cable corridors.

In 2017, AT&T determined that two of the cables installed in 2000 were no longer necessary. Padre assisted AT&T with an application to California State Lands Commission (CSLC) for quit claim of the lease in State jurisdictional waters. Under the direction of CSLC as the State lead agency, Padre then prepared an EIR Addendum under CEQA. The EIR Addendum was finalized in November 2017. Subsequently, Padre assisted AT&T with permitting to remove the two cables. Permits were obtained from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the California Coastal Commission in support of this work. Removal activities are currently ongoing (August-September 2019), and Padre continues to provide environmental oversight and coordination with responsible agencies to ensure compliance with Project permit conditions of approval.

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