Contributed photo/Public records request CenturyLink’s fiber cable is connected to OPALCO’s power cable with rope and wire near OPALCO’s Pear Point substation.

OPALCO raises concerns over CenturyLink cable break

A CenturyLink underwater fiber cable could break, anytime, because the cable is fraying.

That’s what Gerry Lawlor, of Rock Island, and Joel Mietzner, of OPALCO, explained during the public comment section of the Jan. 10 San Juan County Council meeting.

It could also break when OPALCO works on the power cable from Lopez to San Juan Island in June. CenturyLink has tied their cable to OPALCO’s with rope and wire to keep it up, said Mietzner. When OPALCO employees fix their cable, it could compromise the one CenturyLink attached to it.

“It could be a 30- to 60-day outage — it won’t be like last time,” said Lawlor.

The last major outage occurred in 2013, when a CenturyLink fiber cable, which runs underwater from the Lopez to the San Juan Island broke, leaving parts of the county without internet and 911 services. Communication was completely restored after 10 days.

That’s the same CenturyLink cable that’s fraying, today. The fiber cable is encased in a thin, waterproof steel, which is not completely closed. Fiber is jutting out of the jagged seal, which is cutting and wearing the fiber down, said Rock Island’s Dan Burke to The Journal.

OPALCO’s power cable is encased in armored steel. About every 20 years, OPALCO replaces submarine cables to ensure operations, said Burke. OPALCO will add fiber to the cable as well, as it has done with most of the islands’ other submarine cables to lessen the islands’ communication reliance on Centurylink, said Burke.

Mietzner requested council help to create a plan to ensure 911 connectivity in case of another outage. Councilman Hughes requested that OPALCO, Rock Island and CenturyLink meet at a January council meeting to discuss the issue. OPALCO staff has been requesting CenturyLink to detach its cable from OPALCO’s for about a year, said Suzanne Olson of OPALCO public relations to The Journal.

A CenturyLink representative told The Journal the cable’s “integrity and its communication paths” are not currently disrupted and the cable will be replaced once the current permits are obtained, but did not give an exact date.

“This exterior sheath fraying is not uncommon in the type of environment that the cable is in, where it is subject to tidal action and other forces of nature,” wrote CenturyLink’s Mark Molzen in an email to The Journal. “There are several layers of protection for the fiber optics inside the cable and we do not believe there is a risk at this time.”

OPALCO, or Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, is a nonprofit cooperative, jointly owned by its members who use the electricity it provides to San Juan County. Rock Island Communications is a for-profit internet service provider, which was acquired by OPALCO in 2015. CenturyLink is a national telecommunications company that sells internet and phone services to the islands. Rock Island re-sells CenturyLink DSL connections but has its own fiber infrastructure on the island.


Contributed photo/Public records request CenturyLink’s fiber cable, which creates internet and phone communications, including 911, is fraying.

Staff photo/Hayley Day Joel Mietzner, of OPALCO, shows examples of CenturyLink’s frayed fiber cable (top) and OPALCO’s replacement power and fiber cable (bottom).