From a short distance, guy wires supporting towers in farm fields are virtually invisible to crop dusting pilots, explained Leif Isaacson, owner of Desert Air Ag in Terreton, Idaho.
The towers also tend to blend with their surroundings.
Isaacson believes a law Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed March 27 will go a long way toward protecting his employees from a safety hazard that’s becoming increasingly prevalent as farmers look to lease their ground for wind energy projects.
The new legislation, HO 511a, requires owners of rural guyed towers between 50 feet tall and the minimum Federal Aviation Administration regulation threshold of 200 feet tall to be clearly marked for low-flying aircraft. It excludes cell towers and power poles.
Isaacson, vice president of the National Agricultural Aviation Association, said meteorological towers that gather data in fields for siting wind turbines pose one of his industry’s greatest challenges.
“Those towers aren’t erected with our knowledge. There can be a tower one day, and the next day there can be another one just a half-mile away,” Isaacson said, emphasizing he doesn’t oppose their use if they’re made visible.
Violations of the law are punishable as a misdemeanor. It takes effect July 1. Towers in rural areas covered by the law must be painted in seven alternating bands of orange and white, with a flashing light at the top visible from 2,000 feet by day and detectable with night vision goggles. Guy wires must be marked by two colored balls and 7-foot sleeves at each anchor point.
The law prevents growers from planting within the footprint of towers, requiring a contrasting appearance with any surrounding vegetation up to 6 feet beyond outer tower anchors.
“Hopefully what we do here will impact other states around,” said Isaacson, who has worked with Clark County officials to relocate towers in fly zones.
George J. Parker III, past president of the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association, said the bill would cost tower owners between $3,500 and $4,000 in supplies and labor.
Crop dusters can spray as low as 3 feet off the ground. Parker determined 17 users in Idaho – including military, power line inspection, predator control and medical helicopters – also fly below 200 feet. Parker, whose organization estimates the state has 400-500 meteorological towers in use, said the bill will also protect pilots from towers used to assist with global positioning systems in farm equipment.
Rep. Marc Gibbs, a Grace farmer and rancher, was among the few lawmakers to vote against the bill, which he views as over-regulation. Gibbs, a pilot, reasoned the FAA would have imposed the rules if they were needed.
“I understand the concern for the crop dusters,” Gibbs said, adding they know their terrain well. “Anyone else that’s flying that low, they’re flying too low anyway.”
Parker, who has lobbied for pilot safety since having a near-hit with a meteorological tower a few years ago, said most low-altitude pilots tell of their own close calls with towers, and other states have enacted similar laws.
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