FRANKLIN — Residents that live on the US-Canada border will have 60 more days to file public comments related to the proposed construction of massive surveillance towers along the border.
In a joint statement released Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., say, “We have heard from many Vermonters who are concerned that surveillance cameras will further intrude on their privacy in border communities that have already been dramatically changed by increased border surveillance and enforcement.”
The plan, which Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says has been in place for five years, is called the “Northern Border Security Surveillance System.” It proposes the placement of eight 100- to 120-foot-tall towers with 360 degree cameras on the border, including two in Highgate, two in Richford, one in Franklin, two in Derby and one in Troy.
Some residents like David Bennion, chair of the Franklin Selectboard, have said they don’t feel that there’s a sufficient problem to justify the expense.
“We see the border patrol in town on a very, very regular basis. They do a wonderful job. There may be some people slipping by, but it’s not like the southern border where we have masses of people coming across. It seems like overkill,” Bennion said.
The issue came to a head recently in Orleans County. Two neighbors — who once were friends — are now at odds over the construction of a permanent tower in Derby.
Farmer Bryan Davis says that his neighbor Phillip Letourneau — on who’s property a temporary tower sits — allowed border patrol to place cameras overlooking his house without his knowledge or permission, violating his and his family’s privacy.
“I’m an adjoining neighbor and usually adjoining neighbors receive a letter saying that this is happening. I never received a letter,” said Davis. “The more I learn about how high these towers will be and the four cameras on each tower … they all swivel … no I’m opposed to the whole thing.”
Letourneau responded angrily, “Bryan and I have been neighbors and friends but the friendship is gone. Gone forever. Once you burn me, that’s it. I’m not going back.”
CBP has completed an Environmental Assessment of the project in which they find, “The proposed action would have no significant adverse impacts on the existing natural or built environment.”
In their statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch say they have concerns about how the towers will adversely affect the natural landscape of the border communities.
“These potential impacts need to be fully vetted before any such plans move forward, and this 60-day extension will afford Vermonters their right to be heard on this critical matter,” said the delegation.
After this comment period is over, the next step in the process is the issuance of a final environmental impact statement. No date for that has been set, and no timetable for construction has been issued.