Poor Pipe is always in the wars. First it's the ou's trying to site a fish farm right on top of it, and now we getting a telecoms submarine cable coming up outta the sea right at Pipe. Like literally right at Pipe, through the actual line up!
My initial reaction was nooit, bogger off with your pipe peeps!
But before creating an outcry about it I wanted to know all the facts. First up was reading the Draft Scoping Report to find out more about the whole story. You can check that out yourself here:
https://acerafrica.co.za/current-projects-5-2/ (then click 2AFRICA/GERA (East) Port Elizabeth)
Or click the icon to download:
Here's the "in-a-nutshell" version:
Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) has been contracted to supply and install the proposed 2AFRICA/GERA (East) Cable System, with one of the three South African landings at the PE, specifically Pollock beach. Right through the middle of the Pipe line-up. Literally.
It is a submarine telecommunication fibre optic cable, that will be a branch off the main line coming around the bottom of Africa, and will come ashore through the beach at Pipe and into a man-hole next to Summerseas. From there it goes to the Telkom Exchange building which is a coupla blocks behind the Summerstand Village shopping centre.
They propose coming ashore just to the north of the Lifesaving Clubhouse as a plan B. Right through the line-up at Clubhouse.
Obviously the planning peeps aren't locals cos what are the chances of Plan A and Plan B being precisely through the middle of 2 of PE's most popular surf spots. Haibo!
Surfing was mentioned precisely once in the 170 page document, lumped together with windsurfing, kayaking and surfskiing as an activity that takes place at Pollock beach and as such will be inconvenienced during the construction phase. No consideration of possible issues caused at a surf spot beyond that.
By this stage I was pretty annoyed and ready to raise the hackles. It didn't sound like installing a cable right through a surf spot was a good idea - especially since the wave at Pipe breaks in direct relation to the shape of the seabed there.
The scoping document wasn't overly comprehensive about what happens as the cable comes ashore and over the beach, and given this was the part that would affect the surf community I reached out to the ou's doing the EIA, Acer Africa, to find out more. Credit to them for a speedy and informative reply to my questions:
Will the cable be buried under the surface as it transits the near shore area and into the beach zone?
Yes – Target burial is generally 2m on the beach and 1.5m out to sea, subject to contract requirement and reasonable endeavours
If the cable will be laying on the surface during any point of its transitions from nearshore to beach, at what point (distance from shore/water depth) will it exit the trench and become surface laid
The cable will be buried across the beach and into the nearshore and will not be surface laid
What diameter is the cable and pipe covering?
Double Armoured cable is 38mm in diameter and the Articulated Pipe which is used to protect the cable in the near shore environment and to promote burial is the standard 55 type which is 165 mm at its widest point
Will any anchoring system be required to secure the cable in the nearshore area where it is surface laid? eg if it has to pass over reef
If burial is not achievable then there are options to stabilise the cable. These include the use of stainless steel clamps which are anchored to exposed rock and the cable attached to it
If the cable is to be trenched through any areas of the nearshore area and to the beach, what is the magnitude of the excavation required? width of cable trench dug? Concern being cable pathway passes directly through the surf break, and disturbance of the bottom topography will alter the characteristics of the wave shape given it is a beach break and relies on a specific formation of sandbank to create the wave shape.
The trenching is minimal and there will be no significant changes to the seabed topography or beach profile. In the nearshore environment the cable is buried using water or air jets and no excavations will take place under water. On the beach the cable trench is approximately 1-1.5 m wide
How is the cable trenched in the nearshore area? what device does the trenching, how is it done? Of particular interest would be how it is done from shore line to approx. 150m out to sea.
Depending upon the chosen methodology based on site specific information, this may be using a self-propelled jetting sledge, diver hand jetting or air lifting.
What is the anticipated time frame of laying the nearshore cable, for how long will access to the surf spot be restricted?
One day for the actual cable landing, and a further 1-2 days for the burial; out to 150 metres, as stated above. NB: The weather and sea state conditions required for these operations are such that they are outside good surfing conditions.
So looking at the above, according to the project consultants, there won't be any detrimental affect to the surf spot or the beach, and beach use will just be restricted during the cable laying process, a few days.
The cable itself doesn't sound particularly big (max 20cm diameter), but still not sure what influence on sand migration and sandbank formation it would have if it lay on the surface in areas where burial wasn't possible?
I totally appreciate the need for an upgrade in our fibre infrastructure, but I'm still not sure why the cable has to come ashore precisely through the middle of PE's most popular surf spot. I do get that there are not "meant" to be an detrimental affects to the sandbed or surf, but not everything always goes as planned.
In addition to the issues around the effect on the surf spots, there are of course other concerns around subsea cables. Dredging up the seabed being one of them. I would assume the cable trajectory would be laid such as to avoid reef areas?
Also wondered about whether the cable itself would result in any acoustic, electromagnetic or electric current that would disturb sea life, but the scope report says none of these occur.
Personally think that the consultants should investigate a Plan C which would look having the cable make landfall other than right through the middle of our surf spots. Maybe further south - towards Black Bottoms. Or bring it through the middle of Chomp and Bird Rock to the North. Neither area would have influence a surf spot.
If you'd like to comment or oppose the proposed siting of the cable, or the project in general, just email ACER a line here:
You can just email them with your concerns/suggestions, and also ask to be registered as an Interested & Affected Party (I&AP), so you will be kept up to date on development. Just give em your name and contact details.
Make snappy though - as period for public comments closes on 20 April 2021.