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Grosse Pointe Farms

Residents, officials concerned about possible risks from proposed radar

Public invited to learn more about border security radar

February 13, 2013

» click to enlarge «
A 9-foot rotating radar has been proposed for placement atop this border security tower near Lake St. Clair behind the Grosse Pointe Club. The tower was built by the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection/United States Border Patrol to monitor activity between Canada and Michigan on Lake St. Clair.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The prospect of a 9-foot rotating radar attachment being added to a 60-foot border security tower on the grounds of the Grosse Pointe Club at 6 Berkshire has more than a few residents and officials questioning its safety.

The tower, which is directly adjacent to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial and Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, is also close to a number of lakefront homes, and residents there fear their health might be compromised by exposure to radar emissions. The tower, which was painted dark green to blend in with mature trees in the area, was installed with a remote surveillance camera in 2011.

During a Feb. 4 City Council meeting, Gregory C. Lambert, the deputy patrol agent in charge of the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection/United States Border Patrol, explained the proposal to city leaders and a crowd of residents. Members of the council criticized federal officials for not properly notifying residents and not giving city leaders enough time to review informational materials, which were received by the city Jan. 31 — less than a week before the meeting.

As a result, Mayor James Farquhar told attendees at the onset, “This is an informational item only. There will be no voting tonight by the city (on the radar proposal).”

Lambert contended that they have tried to be transparent.

“We have always been out front,” he said. “There are no secrets here.”

To that end, Lambert noted that they didn’t try to condemn the tower property for government use and didn’t buy it but are, instead, leasing it and “providing income” to the private Grosse Pointe Club, which is also known as the Little Club.

“We look at ourselves as a community partner,” said Lambert, pointing out that the tower itself was an example of compromise. Its height was reduced from an original planned 80 feet to 60 feet, and it was painted to match its surroundings and be less visible, he said.

The radar proposed would mirror an existing radar system on Gull Island, at the north end of Lake St. Clair, which has been operational since January 2011. Combined with the Farms location, Lambert said they would “have seamless coverage” over an area where smuggling and other illegal activity have been common. However, city officials pointed out that the Farms location is much more heavily populated.

City Council member Lev Wood was among those who had questions about the radar, including its possible impact on birds, the environment, and even members, like him, of Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, who worship outdoors during the warmer months. And City Council member Martin West wondered why cameras weren’t sufficient for monitoring purposes.

“What does the radar give you that the cameras don’t?” he asked.

Lambert said because the cameras are monitored around the clock by people, there’s always a chance for human error. The addition of radar “reduces the human element” and alerts those monitoring the cameras to something they should take a closer look at because “something’s going on that’s not supposed to be going on.”

As to West’s questions about the possible impact of radiation on residents because of the rotating radar, Lambert said they’re not sending out frequencies over land.

“Frankly, the border patrol does not care what happens on land in Grosse Pointe Farms,” he said.

Lambert also said they use a “very modern pulse radar” of quick bursts that are transmitted and bounced out so that they don’t need to be transmitting all of the time. According to a report submitted to the council by the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Border Patrol, this radar “would only be transmitting for a total of 11 seconds over the course of a 24-hour period.”

“You are getting much less than you’re getting from your cellphone,” Lambert said.

In addition, the report states, “The intention for the Grosse Pointe radar is to blank on the side of the tower away from the lake … so the radar does not hit any residences along the shore.”

As to watching the comings and goings of average boaters, Lambert said the border patrol wasn’t interested in a person fishing or having a beer on the lake. He said they’re watching for suspicious behavior, such as a boat speeding from Canada to the U.S. in the middle of the night.

Lambert said the Grosse Pointe Club supports the proposal, although they weren’t able to send a representative to the Feb. 4 meeting.

“We’re a good partner with them. … They’re very happy with us,” Lambert said.

City Council member Louis Theros was among the officials who criticized federal officials for not talking to nearby residents before approaching the council.

“Before we do anything, I expect you to go to them,” Theros said, directing federal officials to speak to representatives from the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, the Grosse Pointe Club and local residents.

At press time, informational meetings open to the public were slated to take place at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 and 6 p.m. Feb. 28 in Fellowship Hall inside Grosse Pointe Memorial Church, 16 Lake Shore. Those meetings will include the same information, along with an opportunity for residents to ask questions.

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