By Kelli Stopczynski (email@example.com)
WSBT TV Reporter
5:09 PM EDT, September 14, 2012
SOUTH BEND – Some argue it's a key element to South Bend's future, but a Common Council member has concerns about electricity, electromagnetic fields and the potential risk for cancer for people living near Union Station Technology Center. Those concerns have slowed approval for money that would help Union Station expand and add jobs.
The city already agreed to give the business more than $2 million for expansion into the nearby Ivy Tower, also known as Studebaker building #84. But it’s owner Kevin Smith’s latest request that caused Common Councilman and Redevelopment Commission Member Henry Davis to question the safety of that expansion.
Smith says he needs the city to approve $165,000 for AEP to install a temporary power line, just like those in most neighborhoods in order to keep bringing more companies and jobs into his building.
As construction crews plug away inside Union Station, Smith says it’s pretty simple.
“Without this [expansion], we can’t create jobs,” he told WSBT.
Smith bought the building in the 70s, rehabbed it and slowly drew in what’s turned into more than 30 companies that now house data there on computers. He recently landed a contract with another international company that is merging 23 of its data centers into one...at Union Station.
The problem? He needs more electricity to adequately house that company.
“There are three critical elements – space, power and the connectivity,” he explained. I’ve got plenty of connectivity; I've got plenty of space. The [Ivy Tower] is 800,000 square feet of space. We have two of the components covered. The piece we're struggling with is power, because if we do not have power, we will not have jobs because we cannot do the computing.”
In a 4-1 vote approving the $165,000 for the AEP contract Thursday, South Bend’s Redevelopment Commission made that vote contingent on the fact that it receives additional “satisfactory” information on the electricity and electromagnetic field concerns Commission member Davis has on the additional electricity.
Davis says he’s worried about people living in nearby subsidized housing because some research shows adding more power lines so close to the railroad tracks that run adjacent to Union Station could create a dangerous electromagnetic field.
“There’s studies that prove that when you’re around that amount of electricity for a long period of time that the cases of cancer actually go up,” Davis said. “By no means am I trying to be an obstructionist to having more jobs and more tax base in this community.”
Davis added it’s a personal issue for him.
“I’ve had several members of my family die from cancer,” he said.
But Smith said he has done his homework and doesn’t have concerns about anyone’s health – his own included.
“I’ve been in this facility since 1979 with the trains rolling by ever since, with the same power. I’ve done my homework and I feel very comfortable and very safe with the environment,” Smith said.
AEP spokesman Dave Mayne sent WSBT a statement on the issue Friday saying, “A large number of scientific studies over the past several decades have explored the possibility of health effects from exposure to electric and magnetic fields (EMF). While some studies have indicated some statistical associations between EMF and certain health effects, the majority of research has found no such association. Significantly, laboratory research has not shown any causal relationship between EMF exposure and cancer or any other adverse health effect.”
Time is crucial for the latest expansion to come together, Smith said. He’s pushing the roughly 30 construction workers in his building to be ready in time for AEP to add the extra electricity he needs.
The Redevelopment Commission asked the city to see more research about Davis' concerns. The commission’s next meeting is in two weeks but Smith said he can’t wait much longer than that for the money to be approved because he’s seen two weeks span into much longer time periods. He also said Union Station ultimately needs a substation to receive adequate power.
That’s in the process of being built and he hopes to be connected to it utilizing underground power within 18 to 24 months.
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