February 07, 2013GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Some residents living close to Lake St. Clair got a jolt upon learning a federal law enforcement agency wants to install surveillance radar within a few hundred feet from their houses.
"I'm concerned about radiation and the effect it will have on people," said Skip Greiner, a retired electrical engineer who studied radar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before teaching the subject in the U.S. Army.
He lives at Rose Terrace, just downstream from a proposed radar installation at the Grosse Pointe Club, commonly known as the Little Club.
The radar system would cap an existing 60-foot pole leased from the club and have a 20-mile range.
"We're 300 feet from this thing and it's 50,000 watts. That's a bunch," Greiner said. "I'm concerned about telephones, pacemakers, all the electronics in our homes."
The pole already supports a government security camera operating for more than one year.
"The camera is not a concern," said Valerie Moran, president of the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church Board of Trustees and former Grosse Pointe Park council member. "Now, they're talking radar."
Radar would overlook an area the church plans to install $250,000 worth of landscaping for outdoor services, weddings and more, Moran added.
"I don't want to see (the church) put money into anything if there's danger," she said.
On the lookout
The radar proposal comes from the United States Border Patrol, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The Farms installation is intended to complete a 12-piece surveillance network, consisting of 10 cameras and one radar, already operating on Gull Island, to monitor suspicious water-borne activity from Port Huron to the upper Detroit River.
"We'll have seamless coverage," said Gregory Lambert, deputy border patrol agent in charge of the Gibraltar Station. "We aren't interested in somebody drinking a beer and fishing on or near the (Canadian) border. We are interested in a person we can see leave a marina in Canada and come ripping across the lake in the middle of the night at 70 mph."
In that event, system operators at Selfridge Air National Guard Base alert border agents to "meet that person on shore, exactly where he lands," Lambert said. "We had that happen with Gull Island radar."
Lambert addressed the Farms city council this week in advance of returning to the 7 p.m. Monday, March 11, session with a formal proposal.
Council members told him to host an informational meeting with residents before the March meeting.
"Will do," Lambert said.
The meeting with residents wasn't scheduled by press time.
Farms officials intend to mail meeting notices to residents living within 300 feet of the site.
The meeting's location and time also is to be posted at grossepointenews.com and on the municipal website, ci.grosse-pointe-farms.mi.us.
Lambert proposes to install pulsed radar configured to transmit beams over water, not land.
Pulsed radar, unlike traditional radar that transmits continuously, issues short bursts of energy and waits for a response, Lambert explained.
"Out of a 24-hour period, you literally get 20 seconds of transmission," he said. "You are getting much less than when talking on your cell phone."
Also, because the system sends out cone-shaped transmissions from 60 feet in the air, beams don't fan out to the ground until 400 feet from the tower, Lambert said.
Mark Weber, president of the Rose Terrace homeowners association and recently retired president of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, is suspicious of how the surveillance mission seems to be steamrolling from a camera to radar to what's next.
"Our second concern is the health issue," Weber said.
Mayor James Farquhar suggested placing radar on navigation towers marking the freighter channel off Peche Island.
Lambert said the Coast Guard won't allow it.
"They don't want that site's function of international trade to be messed with," he said. "We agree with them."
For Councilman Lev Wood, it's about location, location, location.
"The area you are proposing is too densely populated," he told Lambert.