By BRADY MCCOMBS
Arizona Daily Star
July 18, 2007
The agency didn't provide a timetable or divulge details about where the towers and lighting will go but a meeting this week in Tucson marked the beginning of an environmental assessment process required by federal law for the Department of Homeland Security's latest high-tech border solution: SBInet.
The SBInet pilot project, Project 28, is installed in a 28-mile stretch. The Boeing Co.-led effort has yet to become operational due to software programming problems.
The system includes nine towers equipped with cameras, sensors and radars that will send information to computers in two command centers and agent vehicles.
The agency would likely use similar combinations of technology along the border in the Tucson Sector except for in Yuma. The sector covers all of Arizona except for Yuma, La Paz and Mohave counties.
Those details, though, will be made available later when the final environmental assessment document is published.
About 50 people attended the meeting Tuesday. Many expressed appreciation that the agency is bringing the public aboard early in the process and that it is considering a more environmentally friendly virtual fence.
Those same people, though, said they were disappointed in the lack of details and said they still have concerns with the towers and lighting.
"A swath along the border doesn't give us enough information to provide substantive feedback," said Matt Clark, southwest representative with Defenders of Wildlife, referring to a graphic put on a screen showing where the project would be.
The agency said the project will be constructed along the Tucson Sector border as far as 25 miles from the border.
A virtual fence of technology is a better alternative than a steel fence but the increase in human activity and lighting is a concern for many because of the effects on animals, including the jaguar and the pronghorn antelope, Clark said.
Matt Skroch, executive director of Sky Island Alliance, a Tucson conservation group, said he's encouraged the agency is considering less invasive techniques.
"For our environment, our wildlife, for our natural heritage, the virtual fence is far better than a real fence that an animal can't cross through," Skroch said.
Robert Gent, president of the International Dark-Sky Association, recommended the agency shield the lights, use lower wattage and consider motion detectors.
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