DHS wants nearly 60 border watch towers

Published 2 July 2008

DHS proposes nearly five dozen towers, ranging from 80 feet to 200 feet tall, to be erected in rural areas in Arizona

To apprehend illegal border crossers, DHS proposes nearly five dozen towers, ranging from 80 feet to 200 feet tall, to be erected in rural areas including Arivaca, Amado, and south and west of Rio Rico. The boundaries are between Sasabe on the west and Sierra Vista on the east. A smaller number would be placed near Ajo, with three along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix. Kathleen Vandervoet and Denise Holley write that the purpose is “to improve Customs and Border Protection’s efficiency and probability of detection, identification and apprehension of illegal border crossers,” according to the Environmental Assessment for SBInet Tucson West Project. Barry Morrissey, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Washington, D.C., said the towers would help stem cross-border crime of all kinds. “We are concerned with any illegal activity along the border — smuggling, human trafficking, illegal immigration and any kind of contraband, Morrissey said. “Human smuggling is high on our list.”

A map provided by CBP shows two towers in Amado; one on Interstate 19 and one slightly east of it, both south of the Arivaca Road interchange. There are twenty-four towers in mountainous areas between Nogales and Arivaca; they’re south and west of Rio Rico and west toward, and past, Arivaca. “No towers are scheduled near Rio Rico or Nogales under this first deployment,” said Gary Robison, assistant chief patrol agent, Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol. At this point, there are no definite construction dates, he said. Plans call for two types of towers: camera and radar towers, and communication-relay towers. CBP wants to erect 45 surveillance towers and upgrade 12 existing towers. In general, a typical new tower would: be 80 to 200 feet, 6 inches, tall; have no larger than an 80-foot by 80-foot permanent site footprint; and have an equipment shelter. A new tower would have perimeter fencing, and have commercial grid power where available, or a propane-solar hybrid generator system and a 1,000-gallon propane fuel tank. CBP is contracting with the Boeing to build the new towers. In a $20.6 million test project, Boeing built nine experimental towers in 2006 and 2007 to monitor 28 miles of border near Sasabe. Some critics call Project 28 a failure. “It was far from that,” Morrissey said. He described the effort as a “proof-of-concept” project that enabled CBP to test new software to see how it will work with hardware such as sensors and ground-based radar. Jayson Ahern, CBP deputy commissioner, admitted that technical problems delayed acceptance of Project 28 from summer 2007 to February 2008, when he spoke on 29 February before the House Commission on Homeland Security. “We have the confidence that a version of this P-28 type of solution can be used where it makes sense in other selected border locations,” Ahern said.

The proposed tower sites are predominately in rangeland, agricultural lands and federally owned lands, including one site on National Park Service land. The report states the towers would permanently disturb approximately thirty acres for the construction of all towers and roads. Additionally, seventy-nine acres would be temporarily disturbed during construction activities. The report points out that if the towers successfully reduce the passage of illegal border crossers that would reduce erosion and compaction in soils in areas that they walk and drive. The finding of the environmental analysis states: “The proposed action would not have a significant effect on the environment. Therefore, no additional environmental evaluation is warranted.”

For more information, visit CBP Web site.