Officials from the Department of Homeland Security presented a comprehensive plan to safeguard the shores of Lake Erie at a recent Ripley Town Board meeting.
Michael Hester, assistant chief; Clair W. Snyder Jr., supervisory border patrol agent; and Michael D. Fay Jr., operations officer, outlined a demonstration project to build three 180-foot towers along Lake Erie shores - one at the waterworks in Erie, one at the NRG power plant in Dunkirk and one at the water treatment plant in Ripley. Each tower would be equipped with radar and infrared and daytime cameras that would encompass overlapping areas.
The equipment would not only show how many vessels are in the given area but can identify each vessel and distinguish foreign ships from domestic ships. This would allow law enforcement officers to target suspicious vessels and track their movements.
"If two boats stop in the middle of the lake and stay together for 30 seconds and then separate, we can track both of them as high-priority targets," Hester said. "So we can stop harassing the fishermen."
The system can identify all law enforcement vessels in the area and track their position. This will be especially important in search-and-rescue missions, or if a law enforcement vessel needs assistance, he said. The system will allow greater cooperation and united efforts among law enforcement organizations, Hester said. The information will be directly accessible at any time by all law enforcement groups.
"The sheriff's department can work with Homeland Security, who can work with the Coast Guard and so on," Hester said. "It's accessible. If you're looking at it in your office and I'm looking at it in my office, and some guy is looking at it in California, it's all real time."
Hester said the system is not experimental equipment. The system is being used in Long Beach, Calif., he said, to track the heavy commercial boating traffic there.
"It's a commercial, off-the-shelf radar system," he said. "There's nothing we will be using that's not already operating out there.''
Hester said the system is perfect to protect the northern border of the United States in the Great Lakes.
"You can sort the targets and prioritize them," he said. "It takes the blinders off. You can be looking at a target that has been sitting there a long time and you tell the radar, 'If it moves, you track it."
So far, the project is classified as developmental, Hester said. Congress has allocated some money, but the project is not funded.
"It's a potential to show them it will work," Hester said. "Unlike the southern border, technology is the answer here. ... The key is, if we can get our foot in the door, we can expand it."
In other business, the board approved water and sewer rate increases. Water will go up from $3.25 per 1,000 gallons to $3.45 per 1,000 gallons. Sewer rates will increase from $1.90 per 1,000 gallons to $2.10 per $1,000 gallons.
Board members also voted to allow Doug Bowen, town supervisor, to begin discussions with Ripley Central School about moving town offices into the school building if students in seventh through 12th grades were ever sent to another school.
"Keep in mind, this is just to open dialog," Bowen said.