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Mike Riehls
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July 18, 2013
GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The border patrol's proposed surveillance radar atop an existing 60-foot tower at the Little Club is generating negative waves from nearby homeowners.

Opposition ranges from the esthetics of capping the site, to stand 70-feet tall if radar is added, with a red blinking aircraft warning beacon, to the potential adverse health impact on humans from exposure to radar waves.

The latter looms despite federal agents saying the radar is safe and would be trained on Lake St. Clair rather than sweeping inland.

Federal officials can commandeer land for a radar tower, but will agree to wishes of the Grosse Pointe Farms city council, according to Mario Martinez, the U.S. Border Patrol's Detroit sector chief patrol agent.

"We're not going to force you," Martinez told about 20 people attending a community meeting the border patrol held Thursday, July 11, at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. "Make your feelings known to your city council."

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Farms Councilman Lev Wood attended.

"I don't know how everybody else is going to feel about it," he said of his elected colleagues. "I'm on the fence."

"If the city council votes 'No' and we're not allowed to do it, we'll have to find another option," Martinez said. "That option has costs associated with it."

Not here

It's the context, not the concept, of radar-enhanced border protection that some residents don't like.

Establishing a 50,000-watt outpost in a densely populated area hits them too close to home.

"Put it on Peche Island," Mark Weber, representing fellow Rose Terrace residents, told agents.

The 75-minute meeting occurred within yards of the tower.

It was erected nearly two years ago on land the federal government leased from neighboring Grosse Pointe (Little) Club, on the shores of Lake St. Clair behind the church and next to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial.

The tower is among 10 between the upper Detroit River and Port Huron outfitted with a video camera and communications equipment.

"There's no threat here," Farms resident George Uznis scolded agents. "You're just invading our privacy."

Yes, there is, according to Martinez.

Smugglers

Agents defending against illegal cross-border activity made 400 arrests during the last two years within the Detroit sector, according to Martinez.

The sector extends from River Rouge to Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.

Arrests exclude those made at the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, he added.

System operators at Selfridge remotely monitor the camera network, plus a radar site, and alert field personnel of suspicious water-borne activity.

Local cases

"We had four illegal aliens last week on Moross," said Dan Jensen, director of Farms public safety, from the audience. "We got a couple the week before. We got six last summer. They're coming from Canada. Smuggling's going on big time here."

Martinez said radar proposed for the Farms will fill a big gap in monitoring Lake St. Clair for the interdiction of organized smuggling of people, narcotics and weapons.

"For us, human smuggling is the major crime we see," said Martinez, his polished black cowboy boots a clue to his recent assignment to the area from the Southwest.

Until federal funds dried up a couple of years ago, the border patrol hired off-duty Grosse Pointe police officers to help monitor the lakeshore.

"We do not have the enforcement capabilities on this side of the river we had 10 to 20 years ago," Jensen said.

Eyes open

The border patrol, established in 1924, now is within the Department of Homeland Security.

"Our job is to keep bad people and bad things out of the United States," Martinez said. "In order for us to do that, we have to keep somewhat situational awareness of the international boundary. We don't have great situational awareness today."

A Furuno model 2157 X-band pulsed marine radar eyed for the Little Club complements identical equipment operating on Gull Island.

The low-lying, scruffy island is the site of the annual summertime Jobbie Nooner celebration west of the navigation channel at the tip of the St. Clair River delta.

"Radar on Gull Island gives us the opportunity to see what is going on on the northern half of the lake," Martinez said. "We do not have situational awareness on the lower side of the lake. That creates a lot of liabilities. It's as simple as that."

Study results

Agents at last week's meeting distributed a study by the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute, dated April 13, concluding Gull Island radar proposed for the Farms is harmless to humans.

Measurement at distances from 25 to 730 meters around the island were taken with aid of a Clay Township rescue boat.

"Emissions from the radar … were 100 times lower than the maximum allowable exposure limits," according to the report.

Agents at prior Farms community meetings and council sessions said pulsed radar emissions total about 11 seconds of exposure per day.

Eleven seconds sounds benign, but what about compounded exposure, asked Brian Rumohr of the City of Grosse Pointe.

"Is that safe after a week, a month or year?" Rumohr asked agents.

He'll give more credence to the results a health impact analysis contracted to an independent, third-party consultant, the Center for Municipal Solutions, with dual headquarters in North Carolina and New York.

"I could care less about the (border patrol's) health numbers," Rumohr said.

"These numbers are uniform between us and the third-party consultant," said Border Operations Officer and project manager John Sturgeon. "The third-party consultant's report is being reviewed by the Farms attorney."

Farms officials retained the center in March. It's $2,500 fee is being paid by the federal government.

Farms resident Connie Borris said the radar tower threatens birds.

"The proposed radar is in an international migratory bird pathway," she said. "Pulsating red lights increases bird collision mortality, especially at night during inclement weather, due to disorientation."

Border agents said adding radar to the Farms video surveillance tower is cost-effective and prudent.

"To install radar on the tower is going to cost about $10,000," Martinez told the audience. "To put up a new tower it's going to cost $1.2 to $1.3 million. That's why this makes more sense to us. It may not make more sense to you."

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