Grosse Pointe Farms Residents Question Homeland Security Tower, Camera, Radar

The Grosse Pointe Farms City Council approved the 60-foot tower and a camera to monitor Lake St. Clair for illegal immigrants trying to enter the country but Border Patrol also wants a radar.

Despite concerns voiced by residents of Rose Terrace Street, a 60-foot tower with several embellishments has been installed behind the for the eventual monitoring of Lake St. Clair for illegal immigrants trying to enter the country.

A 60-foot tower was approved by the council as a special variance to the normal height restriction of 55 feet. The tower, as presented to the city council, is intended to hold a high-powered camera as a measure of border security.

Lake St. Clair is bordered by the United States and Canada, which is close enough to the Grosse Pointes and Detroit that it can be seen across the lake. 

The private club, known more commonly as the Little Club, entered into a lease agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to allow the use of their land. The multi-year lease agreement was reached before the plans were unveiled publicly and before being presented to the council, according to a letter from Randolph L. Gallegos, chief Border Patrol agent for the Detroit sector.

Residents along Rose Terrace Street, which is easily within a few hundred feet of the tower, have many concerns--some of which were voiced before the council approved the tower and some that are surfacing now as residents are learning more about the project. 

The original plan submitted for council's approval called for the tower and camera only but during their presentation they said they want to also put a radar on the tower--a detail that was not officially submitted in the written plan. Council voted to approve the original plan but told the officials they would have to return with another plan for the radar to seek a variance approval. 

Most recently the department installed a tower with the Maritime Suveillance Radar on Gull Island in eastern Lake St. Clair. The installation of the radar on the Grosse Pointe Farms site would allow complete surveillance of the lake, according to the letter.

Not including all of the information in the original plan left a "sour taste in my mouth," Mayor James Farquhar said. He was the only member of the council to vote against the proposal. 

Residents have most recently learned about the spinning radar. Rose Terrace resident Joseph D. Greiner, 79, voiced his concerns Monday to council. 

Greiner, who taught radar in the U.S. Army and studied as an MIT student, is concerned about the health of those who live in the area. The radar would work as a detection on the lake during all weather conditions, unlike the camera, he said, which would have difficulty in fog and at night. The radar, however, would be strong "enough to sterilize you from 50 feet."

He feels the special agent who presented the project to the council, Gregory Lambert, has misled council and residents about it using a bait and switch tactic. 

Mike Monahan, owner of Monahan Construction and an owner of a Rose Terrace Street home, originally expressed concerns about the aesthetics of such a tower. His concerns now are more related to the growing nature of the project as several additional items have been placed at the top of the tower exceeding the 60-foot approval. 

Health risks are among his worries as well, and he said he finds it concerning that, a year ago, the project was presented to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial as "a flagpole with a camera at the top." And now, it's turned into a 9-foot wide radar and tower with a fenced in ladder, with a 10-foot triangular platform monstrosity, he said.

"It keeps growing and no one knows about the risks," Monahan said. "We don't know what we're putting up there. It shouldn't be our jobs to research the health risks."

President Mark Weber, who is also the president of the Rose Terrace Neighborhood Association, shared his experience with the U.S. Border Patrol when they were trying to place the tower there.

After discussions about disguising the tower with a flagpole and nautical flags, and being told the tower was less than 50 feet tall, Webber was told none of that was the case and the face of the radar would be four feet in diameter.

"We called back and declined," he said. "It just wasn't going to work."

During the back-and-forth between the War Memorial and Border Patrol, it was determined that the War Memorials designation as a historic place disqualified it for the equipment.

"I'm knocking the border patrol," Weber said. "I understand what it is they're trying to do, but visually it will have an effect on us."

Weber's account of what happened made councilman Charles Davis III question a statement made by Lambert, when he said that the War Memorial had approved the tower.

Greiner, who obtained a copy of the June council meeting in which Lambert made his presentation, said it seemed as if the council was being bullied. Lambert, he said, essentially said his organization would go through the paces with the council but ultimately the government would do what is necessary to accomplish the project. 

"He dropped the hint that they can do whatever they want but they prefer to work with the communities," Monahan said of Lambert's presentation. 

Farquhar said the approval was on a Monday night and construction began the very next day. The supplies to build the tower were brought in by barge and were clearly ready to go, seemingly without true regard for the council's approval. Farquhar fears that now since the tower exists, federal officials will do whatever they want because it's a matter of national security. 

"The key reason I said no is they didn't come to the plan with all of the details," he said, noting that residents believed it only to be for a tower with a camera on top. Now, as more residents are finding out they are justifiably upset, Farquhar said. 

Lambert has forwarded a request for more information to the public relations department and Patch is awaiting that department's return call. Lambert told the council his department does plan to pursue the radar and has requested a list of residents who live within half a mile of the tower so he can have an informational meeting with them. 

Farms City Manager Shane Reeside said their plan is to have the neighborhood meeting before placing the request for approval of a radar on the council's agenda and it isn't likely to happen quickly enough to meet the August meeting deadline. 

Kim North Shine contributed to this article.

FarmsResident July 14, 2011 at 06:51 PM
I'll take a tower over McDONALD'S any day!
Janet Braunstein July 17, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Very creepy. Went from a subtle, hidden, coast-watching camera to Cold War-style radar installation with bonus features?


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