Tongue Point provided the loading facilities for a unique test of underwater cables being launched by the U.S. Navy.

Workers at the former Navy facility loaded about 50 miles of cable earlier this week onto the Tyco Durable, a cable-laying ship that will install the line on the ocean floor.

A large section of the cable was carried to Astoria by train, then unloaded into one of three large creels specially built inside one of the former hangars to hold the cable. The lines were spooled into the creels from the train, then unspooled and pulled along portable traces about 1,800 feet on one of the piers to the Durable.

The cables will be laid in a half-dozen sections in various spots off the Washington to test methods of protecting underwater communications lines from damage from fishing boats and other hazards. The cables will be installed at depths ranging from several hundred feet to 8,000 feet, both on the surface and buried.

The lines will be checked every few years by remote-controlled underwater vehicles to see how they've stood up to trawlers' lines and ships' anchors, which cause considerable damage to underwater cables, said Mark Greice of Sound and Sea Technology, an Edmonds, Wash., company that is participating in the project.

The test will help determine the best type of cable to use and the best method of installation to ensure the long-term survivability of lines used for communications, surveillance and other uses.

Lab tests on cable strength have been carried out, but no real-life experiments of this scale have been carried out in the ocean, according to Dave Thomas, project manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Service Center.

Washington North Tongue Point, which operates the former Navy facility, hopes to land other cable jobs, according to facility manager Jennifer Poulsen. Installation projects have mostly come to an end with the poor economy and over-abundance of existing lines, but there will be opportunities for repair and maintenance work, and Tongue Point could provide a good location close to the ocean and with rail access, she said.

The project was aided by help from local entities like the Columbia River Bar Pilots, who took depth soundings for the Tyco Durable, and the Oregon Fisherman's Cable Committee, Poulsen said.

"There was a lot of community support for the project," she said. "It made it go a whole lot more smoothly."

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