May 7, 2011

Assemblywoman wants to make meteorological towers more visible after fatal Delta crash

By ROMAN GOKHMAN/MediaNews Group, 7 May 2011

Motivated by the “avoidable death” of an agricultural pilot on a remote Delta island in Contra Costa County, a state legislator has introduced a bill requiring that meteorological towers 50 feet and taller be clearly marked and lit.

“This is a tragedy,” said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis. “I felt it was a problem that needed to be addressed.”

Stephen Allen, 58, was killed Jan. 10 when his airplane struck an unmarked, 198-foot-tall meteorological tower while he was seeding a field on Webb Tract Island.

He likely never saw the steel tower, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Allen’s daughter Angela Lucero said this week her father had piloted airplanes since he was in high school and had 30 years of experience flying agricultural airplanes.

“It’s very clear it’s a dangerous job, but he was very good at it,” she said. “He was a very capable pilot.”

Meteorological towers are designed to evaluate the potential of wind turbines. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that all towers 200 feet and taller be marked with bright paint and a light. The nearly invisible guy wires that hold them up require colorful sleeves.

But towers shorter than 200 feet fall under the purview of local governments, which often do not require them to be marked or lit.

If passed into law, AB511 would change the state’s public utilities code and require that all meteorological towers in California from 50 to 200 feet tall be
marked with alternating bands of orange and white paint, a red flashing light at the tower’s highest point, two marker balls attached to each guy wire, and a clear marking on the ground where the guy wires are anchored, including sleeves at each anchor point. The bill would make it a crime to violate these regulations.

The measure cleared the Assembly’s Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee on April 26 and must also pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the full Assembly before moving on to the state Senate and the governor’s office for passage.

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