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German community angered about communication facility

By JESSICA IÑIGO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 20, 2003

GRIESHEIM, Germany — Griesheim’s mayor has some bones to pick with his neighbors, namely the city of Darmstadt and the U.S. military.

Next summer, the U.S. Navy Europe will erect four receivers and one transmitter at the August-Euler Airfield as part of a communication relay facility. The airfield is part of Darmstadt, but is surrounded by U.S. military and German housing areas in Griesheim and is 200 meters from a German kindergarten.

The relay facility is now at the Bad Aibling military facility in southern Germany and is scheduled to close next summer.

The crux of the problem is that some residents in Griesheim believe the four receivers will cause health problems for children at the school and nearby residents, and none of the residents have any power to change the planned project. Fliers are being distributed throughout the area indicating that there are health concerns linked to the communications equipment and proclaiming that “big brother is watching you.”

Mayor Norbert Leber said he believes there are no known health concerns, but wishes he had known about the move so he could reassure residents.

U.S. officials say there is no reason for alarm.

“There are no known health concerns in connection with these types of receivers,” wrote Lt. Cmdr. Terrence L. Dudley, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Forces Europe in London, in a prepared statement. “The transmitter, which uses a narrowly focused low-power beam, is oriented upward and away from all inhabited areas and presents no danger to the surrounding communities.”

Deutsche Telekom, the German communications company, also did a study on the equipment and found it to be safe, Darmstadt city officials said.

“It’s not good when you see something like this and the person who wrote it doesn’t even want to put their name on it,” the mayor said. “It makes everyone anxious.”

Leber said he could have quelled a lot of the anxiety if he had been included in the decision-making process.

A petition is being circulated in Griesheim, a town of 25,000 residents with borders bumping up against Darmstadt. So far, 1,800 signatures have been gathered, and the mayor expects many more will be added.

German officials, however, said the petition won’t make a difference since the area belongs to Darmstadt.

Dieter Wenzel, of Darmstadt’s Building Department, said “plans are going as usual.”

Dudley said the U.S. Navy is also going ahead with its plans made with the “appropriate German authorities.”

Regardless, Leber said there is no reason to build a communication relay facility so close to a kindergarten, no matter how safe officials claim it to be.

“Griesheim is willing to pay for, and give land on, Eberstadter Weg to the military to build there, but they do not want it. They say it’s too late to change locations,” Leber said.

Eberstadter Weg is on the outskirts of Griesheim, away from homes and schools.

The mayor also suggested that the Army move the facility to sports fields near Kelley Barracks and the Dagger Complex in Darmstadt to better centrally locate an Army military intelligence unit that is also moving from Bad Aibling.

“Friends should be able to talk about all things,” Leber said. “… [T]hey should also be able to talk about bad things, not just ask you how the weather is.”

A Griesheim town hall meeting was held Monday evening and attracted more than 300 citizens.

Somber faces shook their heads in disbelief as Leber explained that the Navy would be moving in by next summer.


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