A decree in the
federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 led to the Chesterton Board of Zoning
Appeal’s approval for a 140-foot cell tower to be constructed at the former
town street department on Thursday, after hearing one resident’s claims that
it could be dangerous for people’s health.
Donald Spisak who
resides on Wabash Ave. told the BZA that shortly after he retired he began
having symptoms of strong fatigue, discomfort and high blood pressure which
went away when he installed a plug-in device in his home that shields
against harmful electromagnetic waves. He believes his ailments stem from
radiation from the existing cell tower on Waverly Rd. next to Joe’s Towing.
As Spisak put it,
“our bodies run on a frequency and the cell tower alters that frequency” and
it affects some people more than others. He said he’s read reports that
suggest children living near cell towers are more prone to developing
leukemia and that cell phone companies include disclaimers in their
contracts telling customers to keep their phones at least one half inch away
from their heads to prevent brain cancer.
“These things that
the research is coming up with, it’s awful,” he said.
representing Central States Tower, who is joining with the Town of
Chesterton on the petition, said that studies by engineers on sites like the
one proposed show they have a radio frequency that is “four times below the
typical baby monitor” and are “extremely nominal” compared to facilities
with antennas that send their frequencies out for miles. Those can use up to
50,000 watts of power while the cell towers would be 40 to 60 watts each.
The tower would
operate on a system comparable to what hospitals use for their internal
communications, he said.
Communications Commission has mandated these cell tower sites operate within
a certain frequency bandwidth, Howley added.
Babcock, who filled in as attorney for the town, said Central States Tower
will be required to produce a radio frequency emissions report which will be
part of the approval.
As for the health
concern, the Telecommunications Act states that local governments are not
permitted to reject placement of wireless service facilities such as cell
towers on the basis of health or environmental effects of radio frequency
emissions, said Babcock.
Although having no
power over the law, BZA member Jim Kowalski said he wonders “why the federal
government would do all these mandates if there was a serious problem.”
Factors that could
be considered by the board, such as setbacks, use and location, all seemed
Howley said the
tower would be at the southwest end of the parcel which would not interfere
with the Town’s public works department.
The spot was picked
after identifying a “capacity problem” in wireless service where too many
customers in the downtown business area are trying to use the service during
the day and causing coverage problems.
He said it’s to the
point where cell phone calls can’t be made, which is problematic since more
than 40 percent of the population are no longer using landline phones, and
improved data capabilities are needed so emergency services can communicate.
The new tower would
enable Verizon Wireless to improve coverage in a .9 mile radius.
Meanwhile, a second
hearing on the agenda for a cell tower -- this one at the Bethlehem Lutheran
Church at 2050 West CR 1100N -- was granted a continuance until the July 23
In other business,
no one from the public spoke on the proposed indoor children’s “amusement
park” in the South Calumet Business district, but the plan received praise
and approval from the BZA.
Bill Nolan and his sister Marilyn Busch, owners of MNB Development, plan to
purchase and install playground equipment on the first floor of the old
RangeMasters, a 22,000 sq. ft. two-story building, and use the upstairs for
laser tag for older children, a kind of combination of Bellaboo’s Play and
Discovery in Lake Station and the indoor attractions at Zao Island in