Ripley town board hears from Homeland officials
RIPLEY – Officials from the Department of Homeland Defense presented a comprehensive plan to safeguard the shores of Lake Erie at the recent Ripley Town Council board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13.
Assistant Chief Michael Hester, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Clair W. Snyder Jr. and Operations Officer Michael D. Fay Jr. outlined a demonstration project to construct 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.
This equipment would not only show how many vessels are in the given area, but can identify each vessel and distinguish foreign from domestic. 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,”
Furthermore, 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.
This 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 agencies.
“The sheriff’s department can work with Homeland Security who can work with the Coast Guard and so on,” he 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 stressed this is not experimental equipment.
“It’s a commercial off-the-shelf radar system,” he said. “There’s nothing we will be using that isn’t already operating out there.”
This particular system is being used in Long Beach, Calif., to track the heavy commercial traffic there. Hester said this type of system is perfect to protect the northern border of the United States in the Great Lakes area.
“You can sort the targets and prioritize them. It takes the blinders off,” he said. “You can be looking at a target that has been sitting there a long time and you tell the radar, ‘if it moves, track it.'”
So far, the project is classified as “developmental,” Hester said. This means that Congress has allocated a certain amount of money and said “show us what you can do,” but the project is not funded, he said.
“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 town council approved water and sewer rate increases. Water will go up from $3.25 per 1,000 gallons to $3.45 per 1,000 gallons, and “ready to serve,” will increase from $21 to $24. Sewer rates will increase from $1.90 per 1,000 gallons to $2.10 per 1,000 gallons. Supervisor Doug Bowen said rates have not been increased since 2004.
The board also voted to allow Bowen to open dialog with Ripley Central School District about the possibility of moving town offices to the school in the event the school sends grades 7 through 12 to a different school.
“Keep in mind, this is just to open dialog,” Bowen said.