AP&T’s 86-Mile Alaskan Undersea Cable Project:
It was a dark and stormy night. At the end of which revealed a well-lit vessel anchored offshore in Lutak Inlet, Alaska. Despite the clouds and threat of rain, the morning of September 23, 2016, signaled the dawn of a brighter future for Alaskan’s Upper Lynn Canal residents craving network speeds that only fiber can deliver.
While standing on the deck of the boat, Fiber Tech Rick Chislett delicately fed a glass fiber the thickness of a human hair into a piece of electronic equipment — and there was light. “The first one’s OK,” he said after a minute. “We can see Juneau.” What Chislett meant was that he could literally see flashes of laser light sent 71 miles to the capital city and back via the Optical Time Domain Reflectometer (OTDR) he was using.
Rick and his 21 teammates worked on The Lynn Canal Fiber project from September 21 through September 24 for the cable lay operation, with splicing and testing taking an additional week with Rick and 2 other teammates. The project brought together an international coalition of partners contracted by AP&T. NSW out of Germany (a subsidiary of General Cable) provided a turnkey solution and enlisted fiber techs from International Telecom out of Montreal. The efforts also involved the cable laying vessel Silver Arrow, which is part of the worldwide Horbeck Offshore Fleet of maritime operations.
The Realities of Deploying Undersea Cable
How’d they get it done before the winter set in? In early fall, the Silver Arrow took aboard 336 tons of cable in the Port of Tacoma, Washington, and headed to Lena Point, Alaska. The 1,040-mile trip ensued without incident. As noted, the expertise of the coalition brought together to accomplish the 86-mile deployment of undersea fiber made it look easy: in just 4 short days, with 4 cable landings, and in spite of inclement weather the first day out of Juneau on their way north to Haines and Skagway.
When the ship arrived, a team of 21 workers, including the ship’s crew and on shore AP&T employees as support, quickly got to work.
The project to deploy the 86 miles of 1-inch-diameter armored undersea fiber was not without its challenges.
Challenge #1: Site control at Lena Point/Juneau
Although there was already an easement designed for access to subsea cables, recurring costs for access became cost prohibitive. The solution was to purchase an adjacent piece of property, including a home, to establish an easement that included multiple runs of 4” HDPE conduits and a communications building to house transport and interconnection equipment. Our plan was to resell the home after the easement was established and construction work was completed.
Challenge #2: To gain access acrossmChilkat State Park
This park’s boundaries extended beyond the shore line, and essentially blocked any type of cable laying activity to the upper Lynn Canal region. We worked with the Division of Parks and Recreation, then with the State Attorney General’s office, to work out an acceptable solution. Although an agreement was reached, the time it took to work through the process put the construction window out of seasonal opportunity and we were forced to postpone the project until the following year (2016). The cable was transported and stored at a location in Tacoma, Washington, at an additional cost of approximately $700,000.
Challenge #3: Archaeological concerns at the landing site, Smuggler’s Cove, at Skagway.
It was a site that had been used not only by local native tribes, but also saw much use during the Klondike Gold Rush days (1896-1899). We worked with the State Historic Preservation Office and local Parks and Recreation officials to develop an archaeological dig plan and post-construction site restoral. We contracted the archaeological service of Dowl Engineers (Anchorage) who provided all the technical expertise to see the process through. While placing the HDPE pipe and beach manhole, an archaeologist was on site to monitor digging activities. Nothing of significance was dug up, just a few old bottles and a piece of leather. We then reworked the area, placing drift wood and rocks back in their original places, and also improved a local access road for the City of Skagway. After some tidal action, it is barely discernable where the digging took place.
Thankfully, the team was on a mission to success. After spending nearly $11 million and years in development, Alaska Power and Telephone’s Lynn Canal Fiber linking Skagway and Haines to Juneau, and possibly the Yukon, was completed.
On the horizon for 2017-2018 are plans to invest another 1.5 million dollars in land-based outside plant fiber infrastructure in the region. “The potential to empower the lives and livelihoods of residents in this region translates into AP&T’s ability to ignite opportunity,” stated Michael Garrett, AP&T’s President and CEO.
Elements of this story were taken with permission from original reporting on September 25, 2016, by the daily newspaper Juneau Empire.
AP&T delivers reliable communication and energy technology to Alaskans. AP&T’s employee-owners serve 40 diverse communities in a region stretching from the Arctic Circle to the tip of SE Alaska, which they are proud to call home. Learn more about AP&T at www.APTalaska.com.