Government officials from the rural district of Viski in Daugavpils region on March 19 began discussing the possibility of taking on a NATO-compatible radar that Defense Ministry officials originally planned to locate near the village of Audrini, Rezekne region.
Audrini residents protested vehemently against the radar and collected 20,000 names on a petition protesting the proposed site. They were worried that the radar poses health risks, and some residents were angry that the government went ahead with plans to build the radar without first consulting the community.
Residents oppose the radar despite the ministry's efforts to assuage fears, including the distribution of informational brochures on the type of radar, a town meeting with Defense Minister Girts Kristovskis and a trip for area representatives to a site in Germany with a similar radar.
Janis Kudins says he is willing to take the whole problem off their hands.
"The whole controversy is much ado about nothing," said Kudins, who is district chairman of Viski, which is located southeast of the city of Daugavpils in eastern Latvia. "The satellite that they are buying will not harm people's health. From what we have heard, from half a kilometer away the impact that the radar has on a person is the same as the impact that a mobile phone has when you are calling someone."
In an interview with the rural newspaper Lauku Avize earlier this month, Kudins proposed that the Latvian government build the radar station at a village airport in his district.
The airport has lain dormant since 1991, and the closest structures to the airport are more than half a kilometer away.
"Perhaps a few jobs in the area will be created or an important road or two will be built, but I don't expect that the people of Viski will benefit from the radar much," said Kudins.
"That isn't really the issue," he continued. "The government is going to put the radar somewhere, so if not Audrini, then why not here."
According to Janis Sarts, the NATO negotiator in Latvia's Defense Ministry, there are benefits.
"The radar will generate a certain number of jobs wherever it is built," said Sarts. "Our units manning the radar will have to be provided for, the infrastructure in the area will likely have to be improved somewhat, and there will probably be some private contracts for work in the area to be handed out."
Last year, Latvia and Estonia decided to jointly purchase two Lockheed Martin 3D radar stations at a cost of 8 million lats ($12.5 million) each.
The stations are scheduled to be operational by 2003 and are to be used for controlling the airspace around the two countries. They are expected to be integrated into the NATO system if the countries are admitted.